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Groups Urge State, Feds to Step Up Regulation of PFAS

Contaminated foam gathers on Van Etten Lake near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. (Michigan DEQ/Flickr)
Contaminated foam gathers on Van Etten Lake near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. (Michigan DEQ/Flickr)
September 11, 2019

LANSING, Mich. - A new report offers a road map to clean up toxic PFAS chemicals from waters in the Great Lakes region and makes an urgent case for stepping up the pace.

The National Wildlife Federation report calls for action on the local, state and federal level to combat PFAS pollution from military and industrial uses, such as firefighting foam.

Cathy Wusterbarth, co-leader of the group "Need Our Water", said she's been swimming her whole life in the contaminated waters of Oscoda, near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. She said locals have been sounding the alarm for at least a decade.

"We are demanding action to stop the bleeding of PFAS now," she said. "Our government must immediately clean up the plumes impacting our public beach, state campground, youth camp and groundwater."

The report asked Congress to give states more money to upgrade water-treatment plants and monitor groundwater pollution. It called on the Environmental Protection Agency to set maximum pollution standards for PFAS. However, under President Donald Trump, the agency has rolled back clean-water protections in order to reduce the burden on industry.

PFAS chemicals have been linked to cancer and to immune-system and metabolism issues. After Belmont resident Sandy Wynn-Stelt's husband, Joel, died of liver cancer, she found out their groundwater was contaminated by PFAS from a former tannery.

"There are 20 children in my neighborhood that live within a half-mile of this dump site, and I can't tell you how much this has changed our community," she said. "We need to have available bio-monitoring for everybody that's affected; and we really need to have legislation that makes this class of chemicals a hazardous substance, so that cleanup and remediation can occur."

Report co-author Oday Salim, a staff attorney for the federation, said states should exercise their authority to make rules and require cleanup.

"There are things the federal government can do to help," he said, "but even if Congress steps up, given the current EPA, we may be waiting a long time for action, and that action, when it comes, may not be protective enough."

Congress is considering adding PFAS protections to the 2020 defense budget. At a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, two large manufacturers, including DuPont, expressed support for the policy changes.

The report is online at

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MI