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Health, Science and Environment

Air force leadership visits Oscoda to “rebuild trust”

Benjamin Thorp
WCMU Public Media
Community member Ed Davison calls on Air Force Officials to take action

Air Force leadership visited Oscoda on Wednesday to speak with residents about ongoing efforts to clean up chemical contamination leaking from a former Air Force Base.

Air Force Assistant Secretary John Henderson told community members that the Air Force was halfway through an eight year investigation into the contamination to determine what action they should take.

“I would just say on behalf of the Air Force we acknowledge this is a slow process. It’s frustrating for us also. We’re committed, we’re addressing 190 sites nationwide right now, and we’re getting after those as quickly as we can.” 

Anthony Spaniola has a summer residence in Oscoda. He said the Air Force committed in 2017 to take action in the region and follow Michigan law for clean up. He said he thinks the Air Force is reversing course.

“They’ve discovered that they have this problem at other bases around the country so they’re tightening their view of things. They’re taken a different position than they took back then.”

Spaniola said he was unsatisfied with the Air Force visit and its excuses around delayed action.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters and Air Force Secretary John Henderson addressing reporters

Secretary Henderson told reporters the Air Force has taken immediate action to address contamination that exceeds health advisory limits including installing two cleanup pumps with a third expected this summer. But, he said, they will need to complete the investigative process before determining further action.

Henderson said Oscoda is likely seeing the most robust action taken at any of the 190 Air Force contamination sites nationwide.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters described the visit as an effort to rebuild trust with the community and the state. In December, Air Force Officials responded to a letter from the state calling for increased cleanup efforts by claiming federal immunity.

Peters said he hopes the visit is a sign that the Air Force will speed up efforts in the region.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters addresses Oscoda residents

“Well I think we want the Air Force to act as quickly as possible. I think the fact that the Assistance Secretary is out here is an important step. I think he’s made some commitments to look at areas in which they can do a better job so I appreciate that.”

Peters said ultimately congress needs to set a national standard for PFAs, the chemical contaminant that is leaking from the Wurtsmith base.

Air Force officials say they will follow the EPA health advisory limits but would accept lower limits if those are supported by science.

Last year a report from the U.S. Health Department indicated that health impacts from PFAs may occur at levels far lower than the current EPA guidelines.