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Health, Science and Environment

Governor Whitmer urges Air Force to comply with state PFAs rules

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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday sent a letter to the Air Force asking them to follow the state’s newly enacted PFAs standards at the Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda.

PFAs, or perflouraykl substances, are a family of chemicals linked to health problems including cancer.

In Oscoda, PFAs contamination is linked to the former Air Base where the chemical was used in various firefighting foams.

Earlier this year, Michigan enacted drinking water standards for seven members of the PFAs family far stricter than the federal advisory levels of 70-parts-per-trillion.

Cathy Wusterbarth is with Need Our Water, a group that is advocating for the Air Force to take responsibility for the contamination. She supports Whitmer’s letter

“The state has been saying they want to take the lead in the fight against PFAs contamination,” she said. “I believe this is a step in that direction.”

Tony Spaniola has a home in Oscoda. He said the Air Force is unlikely to comply.

“In one sense a letter from the Governor is not likely to change or bring immediate action,” he said. “But we’re hoping there is more to come, we welcome her to the fight, and we look forward to hopefully rolling up our sleeves and working with her and our congressional representatives as we move forward.”

Spaniola said there is a possibility of a lawsuit against the Air Force but he believes state and congressional action are far more likely to yield results for the community.

Legislation introduced by US Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin in June would require the Air Force to follow the most stringent standards for PFAs - whether those are at the state or federal level.

The legislation is important because in New Hampshire, which enacted stricter PFAs standards in 2019, the Air Force has avoided taking an official position on whether it needs to comply with state standards.

Current and former state officials in the state said they were “frustrated” with what they saw as efforts by the Air Force to avoid responsibility for clean up.

Last year in Michigan, MLive reported that the Air Force argued it had “soverign immunity” when the state asked it to comply with PFAs limits in surface water.

In her letter, the Governor wrote “it is long past time for the Air Force to commit to an aggressive clean up plan.”

The Air Force did not respond to our request for comment.