News Feature | April 27, 2017

Air Force Balks At Prospect Of Providing Clean Drinking Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

air force reg new

The U.S. Air Force is fighting a Michigan law requiring it to provide free water to state residents affected by contamination caused by a military base.

The issue centers around the decommissioned Wurtsmith Air Force Base, which released perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) into the groundwater in the town of Oscoda, according to Michigan Live. The toxic plume is still expanding.

“A well near Oscoda High School has tested positive for chemical concentrations above a federal health advisory level, marking the second time that pollution from the former Air Force Base has exceeded the federal threshold in a local residential well,” the report said.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill in January aimed at forcing the military to supply water to residents whose wells had been contaminated, according to Michigan Live.

"This bill helps ensure that Michigan residents get the quality water they deserve in instances where their current supply becomes contaminated because of substances from state or federal properties," he said at the time, per a statement.

The U.S. Department of Defense has called the law “unnecessary.” And new developments show the Air Force is trying not to comply.

“The Air Force Civil Engineering Center coordinating Wurtsmith cleanup says the service branch is ‘not authorized’ to comply with the requirements of Michigan Public Act 545 of 2016,” Michigan Live reported this week.

The military argued that existing federal law says the federal government must only comply with a state law if it is not discriminatory.

"The Michigan law does discriminate as it only applies to federal and state agencies, not to all entities and persons," said Air Force spokesperson Mark Kinkade.

"Air Force is not authorized to comply with the mandates of Act 545 to provide an alternative water supply or to reimburse the state of Michigan when it provides an alternative water supply," he said, per the report.

The U.S. EPA issued a health advisory in May about PFC exposure as various cities wage high-profile battles against the compounds, including Hoosick Falls, NY, and factory towns across the country. PFCs are industrial chemicals, and research has tied them to cancer. Military bases, in particular, pose a threat for releasing these chemicals because of firefighting foam that was traditionally used in training exercises.

To read more about PFC contamination visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "U.S. Air Force," David Arbogast © 2015, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/