The Impact of PFAS on Michigan’s Coastal Communities

PFAS are “forever chemicals” that make their way into Michigan’s groundwater and affect the health and economies of coastal communities.  PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are hydrophobic chemicals found in many products such as carpets, raincoats, and cookware.  These chemicals are also found in firefighting foam.  

Eight years ago, Oscoda residents were notified that PFAS chemicals ended up in their groundwater and private wells due to firefighting training held at the Wurtsmith Air Force base in the 1970s.  The Au Sable River was also contaminated, and evidence of PFAS can still be found on the surface of the water as an unnatural white foam.  

Tourism and real estate in the area were negatively impacted by the announcement of the PFAS contamination.  Visits to the Huron-Manistee National Forest declined by 33% in years following the announcement.  Tourist destinations in the area that were usually fully booked saw more open rooms, and lakeside properties were staying on the market for longer.  Property values in Oscoda dropped to a low of $57,000 in 2018 and are still well below the Michigan average home price today.  The long-term health risks of PFAS exposure are still being studied.  

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