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Some homes near Traverse City airport at risk of unsafe drinking water

Air Station Traverse City



About twenty homes with private wells in the Pine Grove neighborhood in Traverse City, just north of Cherry Capital Airport, could have unsafe drinking water. 

The area’s groundwater might be contaminated by a family of chemicals known as PFAS, according to a recent state investigation. These pollutants can cause a variety of health problems, including increased risk of certain cancers, pregnancy complications, and impaired immune system function. 

State health officials don’t know the source of contamination. They tested groundwater near the Pine Grove neighborhood because of the potential link to the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station and Cherry Capital Airport, where PFAS-laden firefighting foam was stored and used for decades. They found the highest levels of two chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, about 40 feet below ground. 

The potential exposure would only impact residents with private wells, stressed Ann Emington, a geologist with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). 

“If you’re on city water and you’re in the Pine Grove subdivision, you should be relatively safe,” Emington said in a virtual public hearing on Monday. 

EGLE plans to test around 30 drinking and irrigation wells in the area in November. 

For now, the Grand Traverse County Health Department is providing bottled water to residents with drinking wells out of an abundance of caution, said environmental health director Dan Thorell. “We don’t know right now even if the wells are contaminated.” 

Staff of Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) and U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan), state and local elected officials, and state house candidate Dan O’Neil, along with representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Cherry Capital Airport attended the hearing.

Lexi Krupp reports on science and the environment. Previously, she worked for Gimlet Media where she helped the Science Vs team distinguish what's fact from what's not. Her work has appeared in Audubon, Popular Science, VICE, and elsewhere.