Extent of Wurtsmith Air Force Base Contaminant Unknown

Map of Wurtsmith AFB (U.S. Air Force)
Map of Wurtsmith AFB (U.S. Air Force)

OSCODA, Mich. — Investigators who are looking into potentially harmful chemicals spreading in groundwater from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda said they don't yet know where the contamination stops.

The chemicals at issue are perfluorinated chemicals, a legacy of firefighting foam that was used extensively at the base in training and fire suppression starting in the 1970s, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality specialist Robert Delaney said the chemicals are so pervasive in the groundwater that if you pull the water out of the ground in the area where firefighting training took place, it still foams.

Most of the area and surrounding the former base property is on uncontaminated municipal water piped from nearby Lake Huron.

However, the number of cottages in the area on well water that were urged to switch to the municipal system or find alternate drinking water rose from 60 households to more than 300 in September, and is still growing.

Denise Bryan, health officer at the local district health department, said officials are concerned about the contaminant, especially with older individuals and pregnant women.

Earlier this year, the state appropriated $1 million to funding the water switches and short-term alternate water for affected homes.

There are still more homes to make the switch, which could take months.

According to Delaney, it is possible to clean up the contamination, but it will be expensive and require some time.

Wurtsmith was established as an air base in 1923 and closed in 1993.

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