New evidence at Michigan base could boost veterans’ water contamination claims

Samples collected from hydrants could help veterans who were stationed at a former Air Force base in Oscoda, Michigan, get the long-awaited attention they are seeking from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for illnesses caused by poisoned drinking water.

Veterans and their families were exposed to perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in their tap water at Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Firefighting crews at the base trained with PFCs, which are used to extinguish flames. The toxic chemicals are linked to cancer as well as kidney, liver, thyroid, gastrointestinal, heart and reproductive problems.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) analyzed water found in decades-old fire hydrants at the base. According to the results of the department’s pending report, the water contained high levels of PFCs. Catch basins inside the hydrants were previously connected to the base water system. The water samples were gathered in 2015 from 22 hydrants and a water softener tank.

Veterans advocates believe the data collected from the hydrants could be the key to proving their arguments and urging the VA to be more responsive to their claims. They are hoping for a study of their chronic health problems which could potentially be connected to the contaminated tap water at the base.

“The contamination that we’re seeing in the hydrants indicates to us that the people on the base were at times drinking levels of PFC contamination that were above the health advisory that EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has put out for these chemicals,” said Bob Delaney, MDEQ’s Wurtsmith site manager.

Although it is unknown exactly how many veterans and family members may have been affected by the contaminated water, the number could potentially be large. In 1985, the base’s payroll comprised 3,600 service members and civilians. The base closed in 1993.

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