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MICHIGAN — The AFFF firefighting foam that was used by the United States Air Force contains chemical compounds known as PFAS, chemicals that have the capability to make their way into the environment.
These chemicals were found in the water and soil at the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base. You can find our coverage our coverage of the testing by clicking here. According to both the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Environmental Quality, all drinking water at K.I. Sawyer is completely safe to drink.
However, Sawyer is not the only location to have trouble with PFAS contamination. In fact, there are 29 confirmed PFAS sites in the state of Michigan and 35 states with PFAS contamination.
Steve Schenden, Director of Operations, Sawyer International Airport explains, “This is the same stuff found in teflon, goretex, and plastics. So it’s going to show up.”
Because of the widespread PFAS contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency has developed a health advisory level for people exposed to contamination. This is one of the levels used when testing for PFAS in drinking water, such as at K.I. Sawyer.
Jennifer Gray, PhD, Toxicologist, Michigan Dept. Health and Human Services says, “The S.S. EPA lifetime health advisory for drinking water, in general that lifetime health advisory and others are set on a toxicity value that has built in protections already. So it’s a value that we wouldn’t expect health affects with individuals exposed throughout their life.”
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has been closely following the PFAS contamination across the state. Depending on the specific chemical that is affecting the area, there are many possible health risks to humans.
Dr. Gray continues, “They had some associations with cholesterol levels, there was some hypertension in pregnant women, there was an association with increases of a couple of cancers. But that is not necessarily the dominant one in this location.”
Because of the potential for contamination in the environment, MDHHS has developed guidelines for eating fish in areas that may be effected by PFAS and other contaminants. They are broken down by size of fish and servings per month that are considered safe to eat. They will soon be doing a similar study with Michigan deer.
You can view the MDHHS, Eat Safe Fish website, here.