‘Forever chemicals’ found at three Michigan military bases near the Great Lakes


A sunrise along Lake Huron in Michigan. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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  • A sunrise along Lake Huron in Michigan.

Six military bases in the Great Lakes region, including three in Michigan, have high levels of “forever chemicals” that are contaminating the groundwater, according to U.S. Department of Defense records obtained by an environmental advocacy group.

The toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS are oozing into the Great Lakes, contaminating wildlife and posing a risk to people who eat fish tainted with the chemicals, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) warned.

Most of the PFAS come from firefighting foams used by the Defense Department.

The six affected sites in Michigan are the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, and Alpena County Regional Airport in Alpena. The other sites are Duluth International Airport in Minnesota, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in New York, and General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

“PFAS from these sites could be harming the Great Lakes’ wildlife, including lake trout, walleye and smelt, posing potential health risks to anyone who consumes the contaminated fish,” EWG said in a report.

PFAS, first developed in the 1940s, are a hazardous family of human-made chemicals used in many consumer and industrial products, such as firefighting foam, tanneries, cell phones, cookware, food packaging, metal platers, Scotchgard, and Teflon.

The chemicals, which don’t break down in the environment, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, liver damage, birth defects, and other ailments and can reduce vaccine effectiveness.

There are no national standards for testing fish for PFAS, despite studies that have found the chemicals in Great Lake trout and salmon.

Michigan recently began offering guidelines to limit the consumption of fish contaminated with PFAS.

DOD sites are a major source of PFAS contamination nationwide. The chemicals have been detected at more than 300 military sites.

In July 2019, the Defense Department created a task force to address the contamination, but environmental groups and members of Congress say the DOD is not acting quickly enough.

U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens, both Michigan Democrats, co-sponsored the PFAS Action Act, which passed last month, that requires the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a national drinking water standard for some of the chemicals within two years.

“Congresswomen Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens fought to expand access to clean drinking water and today’s bill passage is a landmark moment in securing better standards that will strengthen Michiganders’ public health,” Elena Kuhn, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Thanks to Slotkin, Stevens, and House Democrats, millions of Americans and hundreds of military bases across the country subjected to contaminated drinking water are one step closer to being better protected from these harmful chemicals.”

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