Ford Airport neighbors testing their wells for PFAS

Toxic Tap Water

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Some neighbors of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport aren’t waiting for the state to tell them if their wells are contaminated with PFAS, a likely carcinogen.

Instead, they’re paying to test their own water. The move comes after a Target 8 investigation into the airport’s longtime use of AFFF firefighting foam.

“People (around) the airport, they’re mainly concerned: Is this stuff in our water? Should we be concerned wherever we’re at?” Explained Jaran Malafa, regional director of operations of Gordon Water Systems.

Gordon Water Systems has tested 10 wells near the airport since Target 8’s report last week, including two on Friday, Malafa said. 

One of the wells was in a neighborhood of more than 400 homes downhill from the airport and near the Thornapple River. Most of those rely on well water.

The other well tested Friday is in a neighborhood on the other side of the river, more than a mile from the airport.

Gordon Water Systems has already tested the wells of hundreds of homes in the Belmont and Rockford areas for PFAS from Wolverine Worldwide’s dumping of ScotchGuard-laced sludge. In northern Kent County, PFAS has spread for miles, contaminating more than 500 wells, some of those far above the state’s limit of 70 parts per billion.

But at the airport, nobody knows how much PFAS from firefighting foam might be in the ground, or if it has spread at all.

“There’s no way to tell what way the groundwater can flow,” Malafa said. “They can flow anywhere.”

Three former Ford Airport fire chiefs told Target 8 they used the foam extensively for more than two decades.  It’s the same foam that has contaminated military bases across the country.

At the Ford Airport, they used most of it for training in the northeast corner of the airport, just uphill from a crowded neighborhood.

The former fire chiefs called for testing of wells.

“Right now, it’s a matter of testing where it’s at and where it’s going,” Malafa said. “That’s really the only way you can tell.”

Gordon Water Service charges $300 a test. The company delivers it to the local Pace Analytical Services office, which ships it overnight on ice to its EPA-certified labs in Minnesota or Florida. Residents should get their results in about two weeks, Malafa said.

“It’s all peace of mind,” Malafa said. “So once this whole Grand Rapids airport story broke, people again, in this area, they want to know.”

A woman whose well was tested on Friday lives across the Thornapple River from the airport, but wants to make sure her family is safe. She didn’t want to be identified. If there’s contamination, she hopes the river stopped it from spreading into her well.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is working with the airport to find if the groundwater is contaminated, but hasn’t recommended neighbors use bottled water and hasn’t called for well testing. However, the DEQ said it hopes to hear from neighbors if their tests find PFAS in their wells.

The state said it is waiting for details on the airport’s plan to test for PFAS. 

On Friday, the airport released new details on its website about its PFAS investigation:

“We have begun the investigation by testing sites on airport property in the vicinity of the previous fire training facility. We are working with a specialized laboratory to conduct these tests, one of a limited number of labs in the country using EPA-approved test methods for PFAS.

“At this stage in the investigation, off-site testing is not warranted,” the airport statement continues. “Based upon the results received and further discussions with MDEQ, the investigation may
continue off-site.”

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