Aug 31, 2021

PFAS Found at Defense Department Sites, Impacting Great Lakes

The chemicals have seeped into the Great Lakes, which impacts wildlife and potentially harms residents’ food supply upon consumption of fish contaminated with the PFAS

pfas contamination

Groundwater from at least six Defense Department (DOD) sites in the Great Lakes region is contaminated with high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to DOD records obtained by EWG.

According to DOD records, some of the highly contaminated DOD sites include:

  • Wurtsmith Air Force Base;
  • Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center;
  • Selfridge Air National Guard Base;
  • Duluth Air National Guard Base;
  • Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station; and
  • General Mitchell Air National Guard Base

According to EWG, the chemicals have seeped into the Great Lakes, which impacts wildlife and potentially harms residents’ food supply upon consumption of fish contaminated with the PFAS. 

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DOD’s records show levels of PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS, ranging from 5,400 parts per trillion (ppt) to 1.3 million ppt in the groundwater at the six sites. Michigan’s groundwater cleanup criteria and drinking water standards are 8 ppt for PFOA and 16 ppt for PFOS, reported EWG

The records also show that PFAS may be present in the groundwater at several other bases near the Great lakes where DOD has not tested, including:

  • Great Lakes Naval Service Training Command;
  • Fort Sheridan; and
  • Gary Army Aviation Support Facility

According to EWG’s review of DOD records, DOD’s efforts to clean up PFAS at the affected bases are still in the earliest stages.

PFAS contamination of the Great Lakes is suspected from hundreds of industrial sites throughout the region, but DOD sites are a major contamination source, according to DOD records. The primary source of PFAS at military bases is aqueous firefighting film-forming foam (AFFF), which have been phased out since 2015. 

Many viable alternatives to AFFF are on the market and meet the international aviation foam standards used by airports all over the world, reported EWG. Since April 2019, more than 100 fluorine-free foams were available from 24 manufacturers.

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