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Report: Water at Michigan Air Force base caused health issues

Jun 29, 2016

Wurtsmith Air Force base in Oscoda Charter Township has served as home to B-52 bombers and F-106 fighter jets.

During the height of the Cold War, there were even plans to turn it into one of the few American military installations to house trains capable of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

The base closed in 1993. Now, according to an MLive report, it might become known for something else.

Former Oscoda residents have come forward to report reproductive health issues, early and mysterious heart failure, and other problems they say were caused by the contaminated groundwater around the base.

Local, state, and military officials held a public meeting on March 23 to address citizens' concerns, in which they acknowledged widespread contamination that has existed for decades but has only recently resurfaced as a major hazard. 

"There are several plumes of (perfluorinated chemicals), " the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said in a statement published two months after that meeting.

More from the statement:

Most appear to be from past use of firefighting foam. These foams were used at many locations on the former base, causing contamination to the ground and groundwater. PFCs may be also present in and coming from the base landfills. The Air Force is investigating the sources of the PFC contamination.

MLive reported that tests revealed high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctyl sulfonate, chemicals associated with a higher incidence of thyroid, liver, kidney, and reproductive system issues. 

In 2012, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a "do not eat" fish advisory for fish in the nearby portion of the Au Sable River and Clark's Marsh, two bodies of water where fish showed chemical levels unsafe for human consumption. 

MDHHS says it evaluated results from private drinking wells near the base early this year, and found the results to be below the Environmental Protection Agency's contaminant limits. Nonetheless, the state agency warned against using the water for drinking or preparing food. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported F-22s had been kept at Wertsmith AFB. That was incorrect.