More testing will occur to detect contaminated water
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Solutions to tackle tainted drinking water in the Grayling area won’t be determined until 2019, and could be used as a template by other communities located near military bases in the nation.
Before those measures can be identified, more monitoring wells will be drilled and more data will be collected to determine the extent of the tainted ground water in the area.
Dozens of people attended a town hall meeting held in the Joseph H. Stripe Auditorium at the Grayling High School on Tuesday, June 5, to listen to a panel of local, state, and federal officials give an update on studies linked to tainted residential water wells near Grayling. It was the fifth town hall meeting held over the last year to inform residents about the contamination and steps being taken to protect public health.
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.
Lt. Col. Adel Johnson, the toxic release program manager for the Army National Guard, said a number of sites at the Grayling Army Airfield were identified where training with firefighting foam occurred.
She said military firefighters from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana National Guards were involved in the training. The Grayling Fire Department also took part in some of the training.
During the 1970s and 1980s, units would light fuel on fire, then put it out with the firefighting foam. The foam entered the environment through the training, but also through the trucks used to fight the fires.
“The firefighting foam was rather corrosive, and it would eat through the seals, and the trucks leaked,” Johnson said. “As they parked there, the firefighting foam would leak out, and the next morning they would come and top it off again, so this was an ongoing source of continuous contamination.”
Johnson said funding to address the contamination would come through the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act. More commonly known as the Superfund Act, the federal law was adopted to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment.
Johnson said money has been budgeted for mitigation and remediation of the chemicals, but those recommendations won’t come until 2019.
Johnson said the Grayling area would serve as the lead for remediation for 150 National Guard posts located around the country on the issue.
“Grayling is at the top of our list,” she said. “It is the site that we’re working on first and leading the way on.”
Grayling Charter Township resident John Hunter said he thought that notion was kind of puzzling.
“How is it that Crawford County seems to get the top billing for this? Hunter asked. “It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s kind of scary also.”
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.
The firefighting foam used in the training contained the chemicals.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), in conjunction with District Health Department #10 and Michigan Department of Health of Human Services (DHHS), has tested residential water wells near the airfield.
From the wells tested, 16 of 643 samples taken were above 70 parts per trillion. A total of nine samples tested above 10 parts per trillion, but below 70 part per trillion.
One sample from a residential well located near Lake Margrethe tested above the 70 parts per trillion.
Residents whose wells tested between two parts per trillion, the lowest level which lab technicians can detect, and 70 parts per trillion were given free water filters from the state. The filters remove the compounds from the water.
One surface water sample from Lake Margrethe tested at 13.7 parts per trillion, which is over 12 parts per trillion, which is considered acceptable for the ecosystem.
Kevin Hughes, the health officer for District Health Department #10, said an advisory will be issued to inform residents not to ingest or swallow water connected with the foam.
Dave Linsday, from the DEQ’s Grayling field office, urged people to contact officials when they see foam on the lake. He also said sighting of foam on the AuSable River and Manistee River should also be reported. The foam forms when it is whipped by the wind or strong currents in the water. It quickly dissipates as the chemicals dissolve back into the water.
Grayling Charter Township resident Vicki Hart questioned if residential water wells will be retested for the chemicals.
DEQ officials responded that they would only retest in areas where chemicals have been found in high concentrations.
“We’re trying to find a box and how deep, how wide and how long it is, and we’re not there yet,” said Randy Rothe, the district supervisor for the DEQ’s remediation and redevelopment division in Gaylord. “This stuff is very soluble, so you don’t find it in solid forms very often unless you have a large area where it was concentrated. It’s so soluble that it goes right in the water and travels with the water.”
More monitoring wells will be drilled starting this month to determine the location of the toxic plume. Data will be gathered through late summer and early fall.
Ultimately, any resolutions to address the water could lay in the hands of Grayling area residents.
Johnson said a restoration board of local residents will be impaneled later this year. The volunteer group will attend regular meetings and review documents.
Applications for the restoration board will be solicited by the military near the end of the year.
“They have to have a desire to be a conduit to the community and communicate with the community,” Johnson said.
Grayling Charter Township resident Nanette Mancuso had several questions about the possibility of the chemicals being absorbed through the skin.
Christina Bush, a toxicologist for the DHHS, said exposure through the skin was unlikely unless the chemicals were in their pure form.
“We are here not to just give you lip service,” Bush said. “We’re here to answer your questions and answer our questions, so when we go out into the field, we can get you back to where you’re worrying about how good the weather is going to be coming up into the weekend and not what’s coming out of your faucet.”
Grayling Charter Township resident Heather Hutton questioned when the studies would end and municipal water service would be offered to residents impacted by the tainted water.
“As we look forward, decades and decades, we don’t want to be in a situation of changing cartridges and putting a lid on today’s problem versus looking how we move from less wells to more of a municipal type of water source,” Hutton said.
Carol Isaacs, a former Michigan deputy attorney general, is leading the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART). The multi-agency response team was formed by Gov. Rick Snyder in November.
Isaacs said team members recently attended an EPA conference focused on the issue with the chemicals in the water. She added that Michigan’s Congressional delegation is ready to address water issues in the state. Also, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development plans to increase funding for rural cities and townships dealing with tainted water to expand and build municipal water systems.
“It’s a different, more cohesive way to deal with what might be in your water,” Isaacs said.
As annual training gets into full swing at Camp Grayling, Grayling Charter Township resident Mike Buchrey inquired about the safety of the water the troops were drinking.
Jonathan Edgerly, a natural resource analyst for the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said two main wells that serve Camp Grayling have tested negative for the contamination and the water is safe to consume.
Edgerly said just two water wells on the sprawling 147,000-acre military base have had detects for the chemicals. Those tests were below the 70 parts per trillion criteria.
Challenged if the military had a more sophisticated system to filter the water, Edgerly came back with a quick retort.
“It’s the same exact certified filters that you guys have in your houses,” Edgerly said.
Johnson confirmed that the firefighting foam was used at Camp Grayling. She said those details will be shared with the public in July as part of the administrative record from the preliminary assessment.
Dr. Jennifer Morse, the medical director for District Health Department #10, said local officials have replacement filters on hand for those that need them. She said the filters are designed to last six months and can filter up to 1,100 gallons of water.
“We will continue to supply them as long as there is a need for the alternative water,” Morse said.
Sesha Kallakuri, a toxicologist from DHHS, said PFOA started being manufactured in 1947 and was phased out in 2015. PFOS was first made in 1949 and phased out in 2002.
Between 2002 and 2014, Kallakuri said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a steady drop of PFOA and PFOS blood levels of humans.
Grayling Charter Township resident Marc Dedenbach questioned how long the chemical can stay in the blood.
Kallakuri said PFOA can remain the blood for just over two years, while PFOS can be detected in blood for four to five years.
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.
Tammy Newcomb, deputy director for the Department of Natural Resources, said deer which may have consumed the chemicals through surface water will be tested. Those deer will come from Alpena, Oscoda, and Grayling, where military bases are located or were formerly located.
Deer will also be tested near Rockford, where barrels containing tannery waste and animal hides with the chemicals have been found, which were disposed of by employees of footwear manufacturer Wolverine World Wide.