Four of the five major airports in West Michigan have a history of using the same firefighting foam that has contaminated military bases around the country, according to a survey of the airports conducted by Target 8.
Firefighters used the AFFF foam at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, WK Kellogg Airport and Muskegon County Airport. It wasn’t clear if it was used at West Michigan Regional Airport in Holland.
It’s the same foam that led to PFAS contamination at military bases around the country, including Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda Township. That has led to contaminated wells, PFAS foam on a nearby lake and bans on eating fish.
PFAS is a likely carcinogen.
Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport has used the foam for years in emergencies and during tests, said Airport Director David Reid. It was last used in an emergency in 2009.
The testing involved spraying about five gallons of the foam every six months on asphalt or concrete pads at the airport, away from the drains, Reid said.
The airport, like others, recently switched to a foam considered safer for the environment, Reid said.
“We haven’t heard from the DEQ at this point. I know the state is still wrapping their arms around this issue and how to move forward, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they asked us to monitor at some point… but nothing as of yet,” Reid wrote to Target 8.
At WK Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek, the city’s fire department handles emergencies.
But before the fall of 2014, the Michigan Air National Guard used AFFF firefighting foam at the airport. Airport officials said AFFF was used at Kellogg during emergencies and while testing equipment.
Firefighters used AFFF to put out a fire during an aircraft accident next to the main runway at WK Kellogg in August 2015, said Battle Creek Transportation Director Lawrence C. Bowron.
Battle Creek city officials said the neighborhoods near the airport are on city water that comes from well fields on the east side of the city.
The airport is part of a Calhoun County task force studying the possible impact of AFFF in the area, Bowron said.
The Muskegon County Airport in Norton Shores has started investigating its longtime use of AFFF.
The airport is surrounded by neighborhoods in Norton Shores, some on well water, and borders Mona Lake.
Airport Manager Jeffrey Tripp said he is working with the DEQ to check for possible contamination.
The Norton Shores Fire Department had used the AFFF foam at the Muskegon County Airport since 1981, in response to aircraft emergencies and for testing and training, Tripp said.
Tripp said it wasn’t clear how much was used, but he called it a minimal amount. He said it appears the AFFF foam was allowed to drain into the ground.
Holland’s West Michigan Regional Airport, the former Tulip City Airport, doesn’t have its own fire department, but firefighters have trained there, said Airport Authority Manager Greg Robinson.
“Our fire captain does not believe that AFFF firefighting foam has ever been used during these exercises and certainly not in recent years,” Robinson said in an email message to Target 8.
At the Ford Airport in Cascade Township, three former fire chiefs told Target 8 they used AFFF foam extensively for at least two decades, most for training.
On Friday, in response to Target 8’s investigation, the airport released new details on its web site about how it’s responding.
“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,” according to the airport statement. “Based upon the results received and further discussions with MDEQ, the investigation may continue off-site.”