DEQ continues investigation into airport groundwater contamination

FLINT TWP. — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality gave an update to the Flint Township Board of Trustees, March 4, on its investigation into the discovery of PFAS at a former landfill located at Bishop International Airport.

Paul Bucholtz of the MDEQ addressed the board and assured the community the state is doing all it can to find out if residents around the airport property are drinking safe well water.

He said the DEQ has been looking at the site since it was revealed there was once a General Motors landfill at the location in the 1950s and 1960s. Test wells at the property determined there are some levels of PFAFS at the airport, said Bucholtz.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.

The DEQ sampled ground water wells in the summer of 2018. Their findings showed three of six wells at the site exceeded 70 ppt (part per trillion) PFOS and PFOA. DEQ cleanup criteria is: 70 ppt PFOS and PFOA for drinking water protection; and 12 ppt PFOS and PFOA for surface water protection.

The highest concentration found at Bishop Airport was 810 PPT PFOS + PFOA, located in the north part of property by the railroad tracks.

The investigation began when, in 2006 or 2007, the City of Flint and the DEQ started investigating more intensely because of some of the things they saw going into the Swartz Creek, said Bucholtz.

As part of that investigation the city of Flint went out and installed 12 wells, as summarized in a report from 2013.

“We were looking at remedies for this thing, like putting a cap on (the former landfill), when the PFOS thing came up,” said Bucholtz. “Three things that really bring our attention to PFOS and that’s use of firefighting foam, another is plating operations and the third is landfills.”

He said the DEQ went out in the summer 2018 and took samples from the six wells, with the results showing PFOS were present.

Bucholtz said the drinking water wells in the area are down 60-210 feet, adding there is a clay layer 50-70 feet deep between the shallow wells and the deep wells. He said the Swartz Creek was sampled above and below the landfill and added all samples were below the water quality standard.

“There’s a lot of the drinking water wells that we see in the area, not everyone is serviced by municipal water here,” said Bucholtz. “So we want to make sure that drinking water unit is safe and that’s what our investigation is going to show.”

Next, the DEQ will install deep monitoring wells at the base of the clay layer. This sampling will help determine whether there is PFAS in the deeper aquifer and the flow direction of the ground water.

Bucholtz said the DEQ is targeting spring for its field activities, while the Bishop International Airport Authority will be investigating areas of the property where firefighting foam may have been used.

“We are working with the Airport Authority,” he said. “Evaluating their firefighting foam use.”

He said they have met with airport and the city of Flint and he found the meeting to be productive, having given them a plan to work from on where to go next with the investigation.

“We’ll go out and set these wells,” said Bucholtz “The timing I’m not sure of, but we’re thinking spring. It will give us a better understanding of what’s in that deeper well water.”

There will be a town hall meeting about PFAS and PFOA hosted by Rep. John Cherry, March 6 at 8 p.m. at the Mott Community College Regional Technology Center Auditorium, 1401 E. Court St., in Flint.

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