Despite the fact that Public Act 545, an amendment to Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act, took effect in January to essentially force the U.S. military to supply area residents with safe drinking water, it doesn’t look like the Air Force has any interest in complying.

Signed by Governor Rick Snyder, the bill was meant to help inhabitants of Oscoda whose wells were polluted with toxic chemicals. These toxic fluorocarbons — known as perfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) and perfluorinated chemicals (or PFCs) — have been leaching from the now-closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base for the last few decades. The chemicals are an unfortunate result of the use of firefighting foam during the 1970s, but no one knew about the seepage until the late 1990s.

Only 1% of the water on Earth is suitable for drinking as it is. Public Act 545, sponsored by Senator Jim Stamas (R-Midland), was enacted so that the state or federal government would have to provide an alternative water supply for impacted residents, so long as state health officials have issued a drinking water advisory and that the pollution’s source can be traced back to the government.

However, the U.S. Air Force says it doesn’t have to comply with the law because they say the law itself is unfair.

Mark Kinkade, spokesperson for the Air Force, cited the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which states that the federal government doesn’t have to comply with a state law if it’s discriminatory. However, the Air Force may be taking some license with the term “discriminatory” in this case.

“The Michigan law does discriminate as it only applies to federal and state agencies, not to all entities and persons,” Kinkade explained. Therefore, he says, the “Air Force is not authorized to comply with the mandates of Act 545 to provide an alternative water supply or to reimburse the state of Michigan when it provides an alternative water supply.”

Senator Stamas actually decided to sponsor the bill after he was told by military officials that the Air Force would provide alternative sources of drinking water to those impacted if Michigan’s laws were amended to require it. Their complete 180 is a source of frustration for Stamas.

“I am extremely disappointed in the U.S. Air Force for not living up to its word and its responsibilities,” he said. “The federal government needs to be held accountable for what they did, and I will be asking Attorney General Bill Schuette to pursue action to enforce the law.”

At present, site enforcers still do not know the extent of the chemical plumes or their exact threat to human health. In animal testing, they’ve been tied to problems with the thyroid, kidney, liver, and reproductive organs, as well as other issues.

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