Hidden hazards: CDC report shines light on Iosco Co. water contamination, health risks

Contact with toxic chemicals leads to increased risk of cancer, other health hazards
Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 11:12 PM EST
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IOSCO CO., Mich. (WJRT) (11/18/2020)-A CDC report has shone a fresh light on the contaminated groundwater in one mid-Michigan community.

The area around the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County still contains chemicals released by firefighting foam deployed there over the decades and we’re now getting our first look at the health ramifications.

That report is nearly 200 pages long. You don’t have to slog through even the first five pages to get the picture.

The fight over what to do about the toxic chemicals contaminating the groundwater under the now defunct Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County has dragged on for years.

“We have signs that say do not eat the fish, do not eat the deer,” Robert Tasior, then an advocate, told ABC12 during a July Zoom interview. “We have signs of contaminated foam in our waterways. The Air Force knows the extent of this entering the lakes and rivers.”

A fight now fueled by devastating new details: according to a reevaluation report released Tuesday by the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “some people who were exposed to the chemical trichloroethylene, AKA TCE via drinking wells in the past may be at an increased risk for cancer.”

Additionally, the report found “some children and adults who used TCE contaminated water for household or drinking purposes in the past may be at risk for harmful non-cancer health effects.”

The report went on to conclude “On-base employees who were exposed to benzene in drinking water in Building 5008 for many years may be at increased risk for harmful non-cancer (hematological) and cancer health effects.”

In comparison, a 2001 study cast doubt on whether the level of exposure would be enough to significantly impact public health. A critical difference, with its authors now claiming veterans or civilians at or near Wurtsmith who were exposed over a period of years have a better chance of developing leukemia and other cancers. The toxic chemicals also give rise to serious life-altering conditions, including blood disorders and weakened immune systems.

Another find: pregnant mothers and children who came into contact with volatile organic compounds or VOCs in the womb – even for as little as three weeks – were at an increased risk of birth defects, including heart problems.

Congressman Dan Kildee argued in a Wednesday statement, the report had “confirmed what many veterans serving at Wurtsmith feared, that during their service they were exposed to dangerous chemicals in their drinking water.”

When it comes to the cleanup, it’s difficult to tell whether any headway has been made since ABC12 interviewed the congressman in July, months after congress appropriated millions to get the ball rolling.

“It’s time to stop this adding focus on studying, studying, studying,” Kildee explained in a July Zoom interview. “We have adequate science. It’s time to act.”

The report endorsed Michigan’s monitoring strategy and called for further investigation.

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