Michiganders testify toxic PFAS made them sick

US Senate Homeland Security Committee hosted hearing at MSU Monday
Michiganders testify toxic PFAS made them sick
Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 5:51 PM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Michigan has more people known to be exposed to toxic PFAS chemicals than any other state. That’s because the state has the most known contamination sites.

The U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee heard from people impacted by the chemicals Monday during a hearing at Michigan State University.

“To this day I continue to battle these diseases, like my mother, my father, and both sisters who have lifetime illnesses potentially associated with their PFAS exposure,” said Cathy Wusterbarth.

Wusterbarth grew up in Oscoda, where the water was contaminated with PFAS.

PFAS are toxic man-made chemicals that never break down. Researchers say there’s no safe level of exposure.

But, it was common in firefighter foam in the 80s when the Wurtsmith Air Force base dumped the foam on the grass. The chemical seeped into the groundwater.

“Unfortunately our family in Oscoda is not unique. Military personnel, their families, and our neighbors are reporting the same conditions. Sadly some cases have to lead to preventable death,” said Wusterbarth.

Wusterbarth shared her story during the committee hearing Monday. She said she was diagnosed with cancer in her 20′s after working on the base as a lifeguard.

“We have had health advisories throughout our community due to this uncontrolled spread of PFAS including foam, fish, venison, and all animals living in Clark’s Marsh,” said Wusterbarth.

Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Craig Minor lived on the base for five years and discovered the contamination a few years ago.

He told the committee, chaired by Senator Gary Peters, that he still has serious health problems.

“Today, my liver and spleen are enlarged,” said Minor.

Sen. Peters said he wants to hold the defense department and the air force accountable.

“We heard more commitments. We are going to do everything in our power to make sure they fulfill those commitments,” said Sen. Peters.

Minor isn’t holding his breath just yet.

“We first have to acknowledge we exist. I would say if we can get through that barrier, then we can have meaningful conversations to help other veterans,” said Minor.

Sen. Peters said he’s also working on creating a law that would create a committee at the federal level to set standards for PFAS contamination.

More information on PFAS can be found on the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team’s official website here. A list of the known PFAS sites of interest can be found here.


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