CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The CEO of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport has said he knew a year ago about the potential for PFAS contamination connected to firefighting foam used there for decades. But the airport didn’t notify the state Department of Environmental Quality and Cascade Township, CEO James Gill said.
Now, Target 8 has found the Ford Airport was asked about its use of the foam two years ago.
In late 2015 and early 2016, the Ford was part of a nationwide group of airports surveyed about their use of PFAS-tainted AFFF firefighting foam that has polluted Air Force bases around the country. PFAS is a likely carcinogen.
When Target 8 brought that survey to the airport’s attention on Thursday, the Ford’s spokesperson responded in an email, “We did participate in the survey that requested our use of AFFF. The survey clearly states that it was done to explore the use of AFFF in firefighting, which is what we did.”
But, she added, “We were not aware of AFFF’s containing PFAS to be a potential threat to the environment until last year.”
However, that national survey two years ago by the Transportation Research Board featured questions about possible contamination and about PFAS.
They include question No. 29: “Has your airport ever conducted an environmental site inspection specifically related to the release of AFFF into the environment?”
>>PDF: The survey
The title of the final report, released last year: “Use and potential impacts of AFFF containing PFAS at Airports.”
Airport officials did not respond to a request for its answers to that survey.
“They wouldn’t be the first to not tell somebody something until they got caught,” said Carolyn Alt, who lives in a neighborhood downhill from the airport and whose water comes from a well.
But now that it’s out there, she and her husband said, they want answers.
“It seems like they should have done something, but it also seems like it’s all pretty fresh, and I definitely want to see them do something about it,” Carolyn Alt said.
Former airport fire chiefs told Target 8 they used AFFF firefighting foam at the Ford for decades, starting in the late 1970s, mostly for training — all required by the FAA. They said thousands of gallons drained untreated into the ground. They called for testing of nearby wells.
A neighborhood of more than 400 homes is wedged between the airport and the Thornapple River. Most are on well water.
“The idea that it could be affecting us is of concern, we have a family, we have two young girls, and we’re concerned about their health as well as ours,” Andrew Alt said.
PFAS from Wolverine Worldwide waste dumped decades ago has contaminated residential wells in the Rockford area.
On Thursday, in response to Target 8’s investigation, state Rep. Thomas Albert, a Republican who represents Cascade Township, called for a quick response.
“We must act quickly to determine exactly what we are dealing with in this situation and to protect public health,” Albert said in a written statement. “It is my understanding the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is gathering information about this situation, which is a vital first step.”
Some neighbors want wells tested.
“Methodically spot check a few areas, a few homes, test their water in a few homes. scientifically chosen,” Andrew Alt said.
The DEQ on Thursday said it has asked the airport for details about its use of PFAS foam. It also spoke with the airport about steps it could take to check whether PFAS is contaminating the airport and has spread.