Michigan Senator Urges Air Force Cooperation on PFAS Clean-Up Efforts Surrounding Former Wurtsmith Air Force Base

Michigan Senator Gary Peters urged Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson on February 1 to cooperate with the state of Michigan on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) decontamination efforts in the area surrounding the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County, Michigan.

In a letter to Wilson, Peters also invited Wilson’s assistant secretary John Henderson to meet with community members impacted by the contamination from the former base. Peters’ effort follows recent news reports the Air Force notified the state of Michigan it would not make new efforts to cleanup PFAS in Iosco County and criticized the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Surface water in Clark’s Marsh near the former Wurtsmith Air Base has been found to contain PFAS levels of 42,000 parts per trillion, greatly exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended standard. In January, Peters met with Henderson, who made assurances the Air Force would take steps to clean up the contaminated areas.

Instead, the Air Force is claiming sovereign immunity from state environmental quality regulations and water resources protection laws. Peters reminded Wilson that Congress has waived sovereign immunity for environmental cleanup purposes and stated the Air Force’s refusal to comply with state established water quality limits suggests Congress should act swiftly to direct the EPA to establish enforceable federal standards.

Peters, a Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, secured a provision in bipartisan legislation signed into law in 2018 to give commercial airports the ability to discontinue the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS since previous regulations requires the use of such foams.

PFAS is also known to have contaminated groundwater, including around military bases and facilities around the country.