PFAS found in Camp Grayling stormwater runoff; public meeting planned
The Record-Eagle August 29, 2021
GRAYLING, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — State and military officials said they found toxic PFAS chemicals in stormwater runoff from Camp Grayling that spills directly into Crawford County’s Lake Margrethe.
Michigan environmental regulators and Army National Guard authorities said they agreed to study the issue given the potential for the toxic manmade chemicals to contaminate stormwater discharge. They said one hot test result came back in the first round of samples — 439 parts per trillion of PFOS, a legacy PFAS chemical — more than 27 times the state’s limit for drinking water and groundwater.
“This is another way PFAS is getting into the lake,” said Christiaan Bon, geologist with the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
Camp Grayling’s stormwater study involves collecting samples during a minimum of three wet-weather events, the first and second already completed. So far only the first round of results came back, said Jonathan Edgerly, environmental program manager for the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
A third collection will occur when the next sufficient rainfall happens, he said.
Officials collected samples for the first time on June 24 at nine runoff locations around the base’s main cantonment area in Grayling Township. Eight spots came back under criteria, but not the stormwater outfall into southern Lake Margrethe from a culvert beneath Lake Road near the camp’s parade grounds.
“We have more sampling to do,” Edgerly told members of the Camp Grayling Restoration Advisory Board during their Wednesday night meeting.
He said lessons can be learned from prior stormwater testing efforts at both Selfridge Air Force Base near Mount Clemens and near an old tannery site in Alpena, and he intends to consult with officials in those places about how they coped with PFAS in stormwater.
“What does this mean and what do we do now?”
Edgerly said he’s unsure whether stormwater would fall under the federal Superfund program, or the Clean Water Act instead. It’s the latest uncertainty in an already complicated response.
“This is one symptom of a broader issue we are dealing with,” he said.
Since 2017, National Guard and state officials found contamination from a class of thousands of manmade “forever chemicals” called PFAS at four places across Crawford County: the main camp by the lake, the airfield in town, an equipment site, and most recently, the irrigation fields for the city’s wastewater treatment facility.
Efforts remain ongoing to study and map the community’s ground and water contamination through the often time-consumptive Superfund program; eventually authorities are expected to decide how to clean up the widespread pollution. Investigations at the airfield are further along than at the main base by the lake.
Military funding so far paid for whole-house water filtration systems in 18 homes discovered with drinking water tainted by PFAS chemicals associated with activity at Camp Grayling’s sprawling complexes. Results of tests at those homes showed water wells surpassed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 70 ppt lifetime advisory level — the threshold for the federal Department of Defense to pay for clean water access because of pollution it caused.
Science and health experts widely criticize that EPA policy and argue the federal standard is vastly insufficient to protect the environment and public health. In fact, Michigan regulators established much stricter PFAS caps last year.
Caught in the middle are dozens of other Grayling-area residents who received positive test results for PFAS in their well water, just not beyond the federal standard. Many eclipsed the state’s limits, and health officials subsequently provided them kitchen sink filters or bottled water for cooking and drinking.
Residents can expect to learn more about ongoing residential well re-testing at a coming online public videoconference meeting set for Sept. 9.
Sesha Kallakuri, state health department toxicologist, said workers are in the midst of the community’s third round of drinking water screenings.
Residents should have already received results from the first re-sampling through the mail, she said, but the analyses can be emailed if lost or delayed by the U.S. Postal Service.
Workers are now sending out fact sheets and door-hangers about the current second round of follow-up tests, Kallakuri said, with 300-some homes yet to sample again.
PFAS is the acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances first developed in the mid-20th century and widely used for commercial and industrial purposes. The chemicals build up in human bodies, resist breakdown in the environment and are known to be harmful.
Medical researchers linked exposure to PFAS to multiple health problems, including diminished immune response, blood pressure, cholesterol, thyroid and infertility issues, and even certain cancers. PFAS exposure also reduces the efficacy of certain vaccines, recent studies show.
Nationwide investigation efforts show such pollution at military installations was widely caused by the use of PFAS-laden firefighting foam called aqueous film forming foam, which is capable of smothering liquid-fuel fires and escaping fumes.
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