Military places three options on the table to get safe water to Grayling area residents
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Grayling area residents with tainted drinking water caused by a firefighting foam used by the military have just a few months to mull options on how they will get a permanent source of clean and safe water.
Camp Grayling and National Guard Bureau officials recently unveiled three options to get a safe source of drinking water to 17 residences in the City of Grayling and Grayling Charter Township.
In 2016, the National Guard Bureau issued a directive to identify water sources at every training facility, camp, fort, and armory. The order also included every installation which had an airfield where fire crash training occurred, or where fires occurred with the use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF).
Water samples taken at the Grayling Army Airfield, where the foam was used for training purposes, tested positive for the chemicals in the fall of 2016.
Between 2013 and 2015, federal officials mandated that every municipal drinking water system in the nation be tested for Perfluorinated compounds – PFCs or PFAS.
There are just over a dozen PFCs which were in common use, including Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory for acceptable levels of just those two compounds is 70 parts per trillion.
The areas with the tainted water are along Evergreen Drive and Little John Avenue in the township, and an area southwest of Date Street in the City of Grayling.
Under a Time Critical Action Removal Action plan, three options were outlined to get residents a permanent source of safe water.
The first option is connecting the homes to the City of Grayling’s municipal water supply. It is anticipated that it would take six months to achieve the remedial action objective. The estimated cost is $3.7 million.
The second option is to drill residential deep wells with six-inch diameter telescoping wells installed to a depth of up to 200 feet with an accompanying submersible pump and tank. The estimated cost is over $2.6 million.
The third option is the installation of a municipal well and pre-treatment system in Grayling Charter Township.
Two groundwater extraction wells would be installed to a depth of approximately 340 feet below the ground surface. The system would include 17,200 feet of eight-inch diameter water main and 20,000 gallon water storage tank.
Three residences located in the City of Grayling would require the installation of approximately 1,600 feet of eight-inch diameter water main.
Assuming logistics are expedited, it is anticipated that it would take one year to reach the remedial action objective. The estimated cost is over $5.8 million.
Sgt. First Class Jeremie A. Mead, the community relations specialist for Camp Grayling, said studies are still pending on the three options.
Homes and businesses which exceed the 70 part per trillion have been supplied with water filters.
“They know the filters and bottled water is only a temporary solution and we need to do something,” Mead said.
Grayling Township Supervisor Lacey Stephan III said the township paid $12,000 for its own feasibility study to provide safe water to residents.
“Otherwise, it wouldn’t have even been on the table,” he said.
Drilling the deep water wells would not cost the residents anything, but connecting to a water system from the city and township would require monthly water bills.
Stephan contends that the residents should not have to pay the bills.
“That’s what the military thinks, but we’re fighting against all that. They shouldn’t have to pay a dime,” Stephan said. “That’s Grayling Township’s opinion. Whatever solution there is, it’s all on the military, the Department of Defense, and the federal government. We’re not signing on to an option that costs the citizens money.”
Mead said National Guard Bureau officials feel that paying a water bill outweighs the question if resident have safe water or not.
“I think the peace of mind alone would be good enough for the residents,” he said.
Studies are in the works for drilling the deeper water wells. The wells would be drilled, but would not be connected to the homes until tests concur the water is safe.
“Their fear is they go through a number of clay layers, there is chance of the bad water getting into the good water source,” Mead said. “There are still some studies they have to do with that.”
Some residents questioned why the whole-house water filters are not on the table. Residents have paid for their own filtering systems.
Mead said there are no guarantees that the whole-house filters would be effective in the long run.
“There are none out that are stamped EPA approved yet,” he said.
The proposed water systems are designed to accommodate future growth and if water safety guidelines are lowered requiring more residents to connect to the system.
“Nobody has those answers,” Mead said. “That’s several years down the road.”
A public meeting to update the Grayling community about the ongoing PFAS water investigation is scheduled for Thursday, August 1, at 6 p.m. at the Kirtland Community College Health Science Community Room, 4800 W. 4 Mile Road in Grayling.
National Guard Bureau officials want to make a decision on which option to approve by Sept. 30.
“It’s a pretty tight timeline,” Mead said.
Approval of a plan by local and state officials are still pending.
Stephan said the township officials are waiting for the military to review the feasibility study paid for with its tax dollars.
“We took that initiative. We tried to get them on the right track,” he said. “It’s all in their court. We’re waiting to hear back from them.”
Mead said the military took the initiative to start testing water monitoring wells at the airfield. The firefighting foam was used there in the 1980 and 1990s.
“There are lots of places in Michigan and even the United States that haven’t even started this that probably have a lot bigger issue than we have,” he said.
Mead also encouraged residents to get the facts on the water issue rather than spreading rumors through social media.
“They’re not helping us at all,” he said.
PFCs were commonly used in food packing, such as fast food wrappers and pizza boxes, and for stain-resistant coating for carpets, upholstery, and fabrics. It was also in water-resistant clothing, cleaning products, and personal care products.
In 2011, following seven years of studies, results were released from a study of thousands of people who live in the Ohio River Valley who were tested for PFC exposure as a result of a class action lawsuit. Six health outcomes of those people studied included increased cholesterol, Ulcerative colitis, Preeclampsia, higher thyroid function, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer. In addition, children exposed to PFCs had lower immunity after receiving some vaccinations, which required some booster vaccinations.