Military officials focused in on initial solution to get area residents safe water
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Just over a dozen and a half Grayling area residents who have tainted drinking water caused by a firefighting foam used by the military will get a new source of water if the military can solidify plans in less than two months.
That explanation did not sit well with other residents whose wells tested below a federal health advisory for chemicals detected in their water.
Between 2013 and 2015, federal officials mandated that every municipal drinking water system in the nation be tested for Perfluorinated compounds – PFCs or PFAS.
There are just over a dozen PFCs which were in common use, including Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory for acceptable levels of just those two compounds is 70 parts per trillion.
In 2016, the National Guard Bureau issued a directive to identify water sources at every training facility, camp, fort, and armory. The order also included every installation which had an airfield where fire crash training occurred, or where fires occurred with the use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF).
Water samples taken at the Grayling Army Airfield, where the foam was used for training purposes, tested positive for the chemicals in the fall of 2016.
A meeting to update residents about the PFAS issue was held at Kirtland Community College’s Grayling Campus on Thursday, August 1.
Camp Grayling and National Guard Bureau officials are pursuing a contract that would connect 17 area residents impacted by PFAS to a safe source of drinking water. Three homes in the City of Grayling, which have their own private water wells, would be connected to the city’s municipal water system.
Fourteen residents in Grayling Charter Township would be connected to a newly constructed municipal water system.
Under a Time Critical Action Removal Action plan, Grayling is the first community in the nation to identify sources of contamination, reduce exposure, and provide a clean source of water to residents.
“Our goal in community terms is to take citizens effected by PFAS contamination above 70 parts per trillion and get them off point-of-use-filtration systems and get them a more durable solution that’s safe as quickly as possible,” said Col. James Crowley, the environmental manager branch chief for Army National Guard.
Camp Grayling Commander Col. Ed Hallenbeck said the system built in the township would cost between $5 million and $9 million.
Bids are being sought for the construction of the system, and a contract must be nailed down prior to September 30, which is the end of the funding fiscal year for the federal government.
If a deal cannot be reached, Grayling would lose the funding and have to compete with other communities impacted by PFAS and other environmental contaminants.
“We decided to take the risk that we would be able to achieve additional funding,” Crowley said.
A total of 694 wells have been tested. There are 17 above the detection criteria, and 218 residents who have PFAS in their water wells that tested below the criteria.
Grayling Township resident Dennis Wallace questioned why the military is taking such a narrow focus and are not considering getting safe drinking water to others who are impacted.
“Basically you taking care of few when there are many more with a big problem,” Wallace said.
Grayling Township resident Fred Fisher said he paid for a new water well several years ago and also footed the bill for a whole-house water filter to remove PFAS from drinking water. He questioned how residents are going to pay to connect to the new water system.
“Who’s going to pay for that?” he asked. “I’m tapped out.”
Grayling Charter Township Supervisor Lacey Stephan III said residents would have to pay water bills to be connected to the system, for the electricity to operate the system, for maintenance, and quarterly testing of the water.
Stephan said the township is pursuing additional funding for all impacted by the PFAS contamination, stating the new wells would be drilled in a central location away from the plume.
“We are looking into grants through the federal government and the possibility for low interest, long term loans to keep this cost down to as little as possible,” he said.
Residents whose wells tested above the health safety guidelines were provided with bottled water. Those who tested below the advisory were provided with point-of-use water filters to cut down the contamination from coming out of their taps.
Residents whose water wells tested between 40 and 60 parts per trillion for PFAS will have their wells retested to determine if concentrations of the chemicals have increased.
Additional monitoring wells will be installed at the airfield and adjacent to the airfield to determine if the plume of contamination has moved. The same measures will take place at Camp Grayling, where two residents near Borchers Way tested positive for the chemicals.
“We’re going to continue our quarterly ground water sampling so we have a good idea of what these contaminates are doing season to season year to year and what these contaminants are doing vertically as well as laterally,” said Christiann Bon, project manager and geologist from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy.
Sesha Kallakuri, a toxicologist from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the water coming out of the point-of-use filters is safe for other uses but not for use for drinking or cooking food.
“It is very negligible if you wash your hands, shower, and bate and do the dishes, but ingesting contaminated water is what we’re mainly concerned about,” she said.
Kallakuri said pregnant women and breast feeding mothers are the ones health officials are most concerned about for PFAS exposure.
Health officials have placed signs around Lake Margrethe, warning people to avoid foam that may contains PFAS.
Health officials have collected just a few positive foam samples from the lake.
“The problem in collecting the samples is it dissipates so quickly and the surface water levels remain the same,” Bon said.
Graying Charter Township resident Heather Hutton recommended that water be tested before new private water wells are drilled in the area and testing should be mandated for homes being bought and sold.
“I just think we could get ahead of the curve as a community,” Hutton said.
PFCs were commonly used in food packing, such as fast food wrappers and pizza boxes, and for stain-resistant coating for carpets, upholstery, and fabrics. It was also in water-resistant clothing, cleaning products, and personal care products.
In 2011, following seven years of studies, results were released from a study of thousands of people who live in the Ohio River Valley who were tested for PFC exposure as a result of a class action lawsuit. Six health outcomes of those people studied included increased cholesterol, Ulcerative colitis, Preeclampsia, higher thyroid function, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer. In addition, children exposed to PFCs had lower immunity after receiving some vaccinations, which required some booster vaccinations.
Hallenbeck stressed that military officials are working under a tight deadline to bring initial solutions for PFAS contamination to Grayling residents.
“I just want to give you a small snapshot for that because that’s something that is coming at us fast and furious,” he said.