Water well sampling is wrapping up; results could take weeks to come back
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
As the temperatures continue to rise and humidity levels hike, every drop of water for hydration and nutrition is critical.
For Grayling Charter Township residents, who own property near the Grayling Army Airfield, it could be weeks before they learn if water from their wells is safe for human consumption.
“Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) have been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an emerging contaminate on the national landscape. PFCs are a class of man-made chemicals that were introduced in the 1950s to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water. For example, PFCs may be used to keep food from sticking to cookware, to make sofa cushions and carpets that are resistant to stains, to make clothes and mattresses that repel water, and in food packaging like pizza boxes and airtight bags. And because they help reduce friction, they are widely used in a variety of other industries including aerospace, automotive, building and construction, and electronics,” according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
“One of the most prolific uses of the chemicals is a powerful fire-suppression foam that efficiently douses even the most combustible and most dangerous to life and property Class B, flammable liquid, fuel fires. Virtually every airport, public, private, military and civilian, and every fire-fighting squad in the world is familiar with the aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) and can attest to its effectiveness,” according to the DEQ.
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.
In the fall of 2016, water samples were taken from monitoring wells at the Grayling Army Airfield. Due to low detection levels and an issue with the sampling verification, more tests were conducted on wells on the southern boundary of the Grayling Army Airfield.
After receiving those test results, the Michigan Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (DMVA), the DEQ, and the Michigan Human Health and Human Services (DHHS) partnered to address the issue. A cluster of 20 monitoring wells was installed along the Grayling Army Airfield’s fence line and 60 groundwater samples were collected. Of those samples, which came back in mid-April of this year, 20 tested positive for PFCs and five exceeded the U.S. EPA’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.
The DMVA held a town hall meeting at the Grayling Middle School on May 18 to inform residents regarding potential tainted water.
Since May 25, 140 residential water wells near the Grayling Army Airfield, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeremie A. Mead, the community relations specialist for the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center.
The investigation to determine if PFCs have leached into the water table will include testing private residential water wells in between the airfield and the AuSable River in Grayling Charter Township, specifically in the Sherwood Forest subdivision and along Evergreen Drive.
Mead stressed that the testing of the water samples is comprehensive and could take four to six weeks before the results are available.
Mead said that another town hall meeting will be held after the results of the tests are available.
“Other than that, we’re kind of in the waiting game right now, waiting for the results to come back,” Mead said.
The District Health Department #10 office in Grayling, located at 501 Norway Street, is serving as a central location for residents who want their water wells tested. Property owners can fill out cards for the testing, and receive information about the issue regarding the use of the firefighting foam at the airfield.
The health department can be reached at (989) 348-7800.
Residents in the area that may be impacted are urged request their water wells be tested soon.
“That window of opportunity is quickly closing because we need to get all of the samples to the lab,” said Jeannine Taylor, the public information officer for District Health Department #10.
Health officials informed residents who are concerned about the safety of their water could still use it for showering, bathing, and doing dishes, but not for drinking and cooking.
“What we’re telling people if don’t feel comfortable their well water, they can seek other sources,” Taylor said.
A water tree has been established on a hydrant near the Grayling City Hall. This will allow Grayling Charter Township residents in the area where wells will be tested to have a safe source for water between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.
Thousands of people, who live in the Ohio River Valley, were tested for PFCs 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.
Taylor said specific details regarding the water testing and the lab being used to test the water are being determined by military and state officials.
“This is something that they are processing and the health department is just here in a support role,” Taylor said.
Taylor said no water advisories have been issued for the area potentially impacted. She said results of the testing will be released once they come in and are analyzed.
“Obviously, if the results come sooner, we will notify everyone after data in analyzed and the data is available,” Taylor said.
The DEQ has also taken over the environmental assistance center for issues regarding the Grayling Army Airfield. For assistance, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-662-9278.