According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, U.S. Air Force (USAF) firefighters from Wurtsmith Air Force Base recently aided Oscoda, their host community, with at least two major fires over the years: a forest fire in 1987 and a bus garage fire in 1995. Both times, USFA relied on what it also used on the base—firefighting foam containing nonstick perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The compounds, also known as “forever chemicals,” don’t break down in the environment and are tied to cancer and other health issues. Decades after the fires, the groundwater in the areas where Wurtsmith fire crews provided this mutual aid remains contaminated with high levels of PFAS.
However, USAF officials say that this is Oscoda’s responsibility, not theirs.
In a statement this past Friday, they took that position once again while also giving updates on their plans to remediate PFAS contamination in Clark’s Marsh. That contamination, they said, came from historic activity on the former base, which was decommissioned in 1993.
However, USAF looks differently at offering firefighting assistance off base.
Steve TerMaath, chief of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s program, said that the USAF responds on the community’s behalf in a way that they approved and wanted, and it was not a direct USAF action.
The groundwater plumes containing high levels of the potentially harmful PFAS compounds PFOS and PFOA on River Road, south of Wurtsmith base, are thought to be from the 1995 bus garage response involving Wurtsmith’s PFAS-laden fire foam, and which prompted Oscoda Public Schools in 2018 to change the drinking water at its nearby campus from groundwater wells to the Huron Shores Regional Utility Authority water system fed by nearby Lake Huron.