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Groundwater Treatment Systems to Address 'Forever Chemicals'

The two systems will be deployed to address the spread of PFAS.

PFAS foam gathers at the the Van Etten Creek dam in Oscoda Township, Mich., near Wurtsmith Air Force Base on June 7, 2018.
PFAS foam gathers at the the Van Etten Creek dam in Oscoda Township, Mich., near Wurtsmith Air Force Base on June 7, 2018.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Groundwater treatment systems will be installed near a military base in northern Michigan to address contamination from high levels of toxic, widely used "forever chemicals," the U.S. Department of Defense announced Thursday.

Two systems will be deployed to address the spread of PFAS, an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in groundwater near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan. The base, which closed in 1993, is located on Lake Huron.

PFAS chemicals are a group of compounds that are widespread, dangerous and expensive to remove from water. They don't degrade in the environment and are linked to a broad range of health issues, including low birthweight and kidney cancer.

"For far too long, Oscoda and surrounding communities have lived with the impact of PFAS contamination created by the Department of Defense," Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin said in a statement. She added that the systems "are a positive step forward, even with much more work to do."

The announcement comes close to two years after an environmental group released of Department of Defense records that showed PFAS had contaminated groundwater near at least six military sites in the Great Lakes region. At the former Air Force Base in Oscoda, department records showed PFAS had been detected at levels up to 213,000 parts per trillion.

Tony Spaniola has pushed the Pentagon to clean up PFAS contamination at and near Wurtsmith Air Force Base since he received a notification in 2016 that water near his Oscoda cabin wasn't safe to drink. He said the new treatment systems will help stop the PFAS from "bleeding" into groundwater and local water systems, such as Lake Huron.

"We understand that cleaning up this mess may take some time. But in the meantime, we've got to stop it from continuing to go into the lakes and the rivers and impacting the wildlife and people," said Spaniola, the co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network.

The Department of Defense said in a statement that the two systems would "expedite the cleanup" of the department's PFAS contamination and "further migration of PFAS-impacted groundwater into adjacent surface waters."

The Environmental Protection Agency in March proposed strict limits of 4 parts per trillion, the lowest level that can be reliably measured, for two common types of PFAS compounds called PFOA and PFOS. Drinking water from nearly half of U.S. faucets likely contains PFAS, according to a government study released in July.

The chemicals had been used since the 1940s in consumer products and industry, including in nonstick pans, food packaging and firefighting foam. Their use is now mostly phased out in the U.S., but some still remain.

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