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Health, Science and Environment

Oscoda residents send message to Air Force on ongoing PFAs contamination: “enough”

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Retired Lt. Colonel Craig Minor

Residents of Oscoda and veterans of the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base gathered Wednesday to say time is up and the Air Force needs to clean up PFAs pollution in the region.

PFAs, or perfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of chemicals that have been found across the state and are linked to health problems including cancer.

Residents said it has been nine years since state officials first identified the presence of PFAs leaking from air base and there still has not been enough action to clean up the chemicals.

Tony Spaniola is a member of the Need Our Water community action group and has property on Van Etten Lake in Oscoda. He said residents have been warned against eating local fish, hunting local deer, and coming in contact with foams that build up along the shore.

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Tony Spaniola

“Despite those warning and despite the passage of nearly a decade, the Air Force has no plans to clean up the PFAs contamination here,” Spaniola said. “In fact it won’t even commit to a timeline for coming up with a plan. We’re here to say: enough.”

Another member of the Need Our Water group, Cathy Wusterbarth, said the continued inaction is unconscionable.

“My friends and my family are developing and dying of kidney, liver, and testicular cancers. They are also suffering from immunological diseases, increased cholesterol, and thyroid diseases among other possibly related disorders,” Wusterbarth said.

Retired Lt. Colonel Craig Minor used to serve on Wurtsmith Air Force base. He said he believes his exposure to chemicals on the base impacted his son.

“This chemical impacts the fetus by causing a smaller head circumference and causing cerebral palsy,” Minor said. “That’s exactly what our son has.”

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Cathy Wusterbarth

Minor said the Air Force hasn’t even stopped the contamination still coming off the base. 

“And then you gotta go back and take a hard look at all the veterans and their families that were harmed by this chemical and start triaging that and helping those people, as well as the folks that are impacted today,” he said.

Oscoda protestors were joined by residents from other sites of water contamination across the state, including Flint and Belmont.

Sandy Wynn-Stelt, a resident of Belmont impacted by PFAs contamination from the Wolverine World Wide dump site, said PFAs in her blood have tested at five million parts per trillion.

“No one can tell me what that will do to me but nobody says I have nothing to worry about,” she said.

Flint resident Arthur Woodson was also in attendance. He said he sees similarities between the government inaction in Oscoda and the same inaction he saw in Flint.

“They don’t care about us, until we come together as one and start speaking as one voice,” Woodson said.

In a written statement Air Force officials said the long-term solution for addressing the contamination will be through investigating the extent of the contamination, evaluating risk, and determining response actions.

You can read their full statement below:

We are working as quickly as we can - while following a multi-step processes - to address human drinking water impacted by our firefighting mission.

Our first priority is protecting drinking water sources because drinking water is a direct pathway to human consumption. The long-term solution for addressing the contamination will be through the CERCLA process to investigate the extent of the contamination, evaluate risk, and determine response actions. This process includes other federal and state regulator coordination and public involvement.