The Air Force claims sovereign immunity from state environmental quality regulations and water resources protection laws.
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 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 clean up PFAS in Iosco County and criticized the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Surface water in Clark’s Marsh near the former Wurtsmith Air Force 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 require the use of such foams.
PFAS are also known to have contaminated groundwater, including around military bases and facilities around the country.
In related news, a Michigan resident whose town is affected by PFAS contamination of groundwater, rivers, and lakes was invited to attend the State of the Union on February 5.
Cathy Wusterbarth of Oscoda attended the speech as the guest of Michigan Representative Dan Kildee who represents the area in Congress. Wusterbarth helped to organize Need Our Water, a local citizens group that wants to rid the area’s waters of PFAS chemicals flowing from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.
PFAS has been on NGWA’s radar for several years and will remain a priority issue for the foreseeable future. The Association has created a Groundwater and PFAS resource center for NGWA members. The center includes PFAS FAQs, top 10 facts about PFAS, and a homeowner checklist, among other items. NGWA is also the publisher of the guidance document, Groundwater and PFAS: State of Knowledge and Practice.
As in 2018, NGWA is hosting educational events on PFAS this year: