Investigation finds airport PFAS contamination has not spread

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Toxic chemicals contaminating the Army Aviation Support Facility at Abrams Airfield have not spread to surrounding residential wells, according to testing conducted over the summer by the Michigan Army National Guard and Grand Ledge city officials.

The guard initiated the investigation last year after random sampling indicated the presence of a group of chemicals known as PFAS at the facility. The chemicals were found at levels over nine times the maximum contamination level set by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The department has been working with the guard since the initial investigations and has classified the Grand Ledge facility as an official PFAS investigation site. PFAS stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of potentially harmful chemicals used in a wide variety of household products and industrial processes

“EGLE staff conduct routine monitoring of rivers and lakes, and if a sample exceeds water quality standards, staff work upstream until they find the site contributing to the PFAS,” said Scott Dean, a spokesman for the department’s PFAS Action Response Team “EGLE is committed to continuing to do all of these types of sampling efforts.”

Specific PFAS chemicals found at the site include PFOA and PFOS. They are believed to come from an aircraft fire retardant that was used by a guard firefighting unit that was disbanded in the early 1990s, according to EGLE.

PFAS, which is believed by some to cause long-term health complications, has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which cites a need for more research to prove a definitive link between PFAS and specific health risks.

Limited studies on animals and humans have found a possible link between PFAS contamination and both kidney and testicular cancer, higher cholesterol, and complications for pregnant women, along with a variety of other symptoms, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Earlier this month, a woman in Belmont, Michigan, was diagnosed with cancer after a test found her blood contained the highest level of PFAS concentrations ever recorded in a human, according to WOOD-TV. She and her husband, who died four years ago from liver cancer, lived across from a PFAS-contaminated site also being investigated by EGLE.

Assistant Airport Manager Amee King said reports like this have caused local officials in Grand Ledge to keep a close eye on the contamination issue

“We have private wells out there that we have been testing,” King said. “Our latest test came back non-detect for the second time.”

The 2019 Grand Ledge city water report also indicated that PFAS was “not detectable” in samples taken from the municipal filtration plant located along the Grand River.

The results have helped to settle fears for now.

“The National Guard has taken care of the rest of the residential testing,” King said. “I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m concerned.

“As long as our wells are being tested and they are clear, we should be fine.”

In a press release issued about the most recent testing, the director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers said: “The results of this sampling are good news. The Michigan National Guard remains committed to maintaining readiness while protecting Michiganders and the environment, with a special emphasis on protecting Michigan’s water.” 

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