Contaminants found in groundwater beneath Oakland County Airport


Township of Waterford – Oakland County informed the state on Thursday that PFAS – chemicals resistant to heat, water and oil – had been detected in groundwater under the property of the International Airport of the Oakland County to levels in excess of state recommended maximum contaminant levels.

County report to Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, results of state-ordered testing and sampling at the county-owned airport off the M-59 as well as at 19 other commercial airports in Michigan due to Federal Aviation Administration regulations requiring the use of fire extinguisher foam containing PFAS.

Brighton’s ASTi Environmental installed eight permanent detection wells on the airport grounds in May and received sampling results this month, according to a press release on Thursday. It is still unclear what the source of the chemical is and whether it could pose a threat to groundwater or private wells in the area. There were seven firefighting incidents on airport property between 1996 and 2019 in which aqueous film-forming foam containing PFAS was used.

“Oakland County International Airport has long been committed to minimizing our impact on the environment,” said J. David VanderVeen, Director of Central Services for Oakland County, which oversees the airport. “We apply the same mindset to investigate and process the detection of PFAS at the airport. “

The county stressed that the airport, which has a 24-hour rescue and firefighting unit, is careful in its use of foam containing PFAS and limits its use in the event of a fire.

Results from the environmental lab ASTi 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 the Environmental Protection Agency standards for PFAS.

The first shallow depth tests carried out by ASTi Environmental at the OCIA indicated that the groundwater was flowing in a south-southeast direction towards the M-59. It is not yet determined whether a PFAS detected at the airport has escaped the property.

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

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

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

Airports have used film-forming foam containing PFAS since the mid-1960s. The FAA requires its use at all commercial airports because of its effectiveness in extinguishing aircraft fires.

In October 2018, Congress ordered the FAA to no longer require airports to use foam containing PFAS. As of June 2021, the FAA had not lifted its requirement.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has classified PFAS as a national contaminant. It has been used in industrial and consumer products including carpets, waterproof clothing, upholstery, food paper packaging, personal care products, metallic paints, and fire-fighting foams.

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