Contaminants found in groundwater beneath Oakland County International Airport

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
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Waterford Township — Oakland County advised the state Thursday that PFAS – chemicals resistant to heat, water and oil — have been detected in groundwater beneath the Oakland County International Airport property at levels exceeding state recommended maximum contaminant levels.

The county's report to the Michigan Department of Environmental, Great Lakes, and Energy, results from state-ordered tests and sampling at the county-owned airport off M-59 as well as 19 other commercial airports across Michigan because of Federal Aviation Administration regulations mandating the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS.

ASTi Environmental of Brighton installed eight permanent detection wells on the airport’s grounds in May and received sampling results this month, according to a news release Thursday. It's still not known what the source of the chemical is and if it might pose a threat to any area groundwater or private wells. There have been seven fire fighting incidents on the airport property between 1996 and 2019 in which Aqueous Film Forming Foam containing PFAS was in use.

Oakland County advised the state Thursday that PFAS — chemicals resistant to heat, water and oil — have been detected in groundwater beneath the Oakland County International Airport property at levels exceeding state recommended maximum contaminant levels.

“Oakland County International Airport has a long commitment to minimizing our impact on the environment,” said J. David VanderVeen, director of Oakland County Central Services, which oversees the airport. “We bring that same mindset to investigating and addressing the detection of PFAS at the airport.”

The county stressed the airport, which has a 24-hour airport rescue and firefighting unit, is prudent in its use of the foam containing PFAS and limits its use to when there's a fire.

ASTi Environmental lab results indicated detectable concentrations of one or more PFAS compounds in seven of the eight monitoring wells, the county said.

Four of the wells had PFAS concentrations exceeding EGLE standards, which are more stringent than Environmental Protection Agency standards for PFAS.

Initial shallow testing by ASTi Environmental at OCIA indicated the groundwater flows in a south-southeast direction toward M-59. It is undetermined at this time whether any PFAS detected at the airport has flowed off of the property. 

The airport has launched a webpage to inform and educate neighbors about PFAS testing and detection.

While most of the surrounding area is on a township water system, EGLE identified 24 homes north of the airport that remain on well water. Thirteen homeowners opted to have EGLE test for PFAS. Lab results for 11 of the homes indicated detectable concentrations of one or more PFAS compounds. Only one home’s PFAS test result exceeded EGLE’s standards. 

The 160-acre airport property is less than one-quarter mile of two large lakes — Williams Lake to the north and Pontiac Lake to the west —and several rivers and streams.

Airports have been utilizing film-forming foam that contains PFAS since the mid-1960s. The FAA mandates its use at all commercial airports because of its effectiveness at extinguishing aircraft fires.

In October of 2018, Congress directed the FAA to no longer require airports to use foam that contains PFAS. As of June 2021, the FAA has not lifted its requirement. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified PFAS as a national contaminant. It has been used in industrial and consumer products including carpeting, waterproof clothing, upholstery, food paper wrappings, personal care products, metal paint and firefighting foams.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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