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U.S. EPA REGION 5
IOSCO COUNTY
OSCODA

Congressional District # 01

WURTSMITH AIR FORCE BASE

EPA ID# MI5570024278
Last Updated: October, 2014

Site Description

Wurtsmith Air Force Base (Wurtsmith) is a 5,223 acre site, located on the northeastern part of Michigan's lower peninsula about two miles west of Lake Huron.  To the north and northeast of the site is Van Etten Lake, to the southwest is Allen Lake, and to the southeast and east is the village of Oscoda.  Of the 5,223 acres, 1,943 acres are owned by the U.S. Air Force.  The rest of the facility consists of 2,466 acres that are leased primarily from the state and 814 acres that are registered as easement tracts. 

Wurtsmith has operated since 1923 under several different names, beginning as a subsidiary of Selfridge Field, called Camp Skeel.  Until World War II, Camp Skeel was used for gunnery practice, winter maneuvers, and aircraft landings.  According to The Emergency War Order, the primary mission of the base was to maintain full readiness to conduct strategic bombing operations worldwide.  Support activities at the base included aircraft and vehicle maintenance, bombardment crew and unit training, and air refueling support.  The base was renamed Oscoda Army Air Field when the Continental Air Command began using it as a transient aircraft stopover.  In 1953, the base was renamed back to Wurtsmith Air Force Base, and the present runway and taxiway configurations were established in 1959.  In 1960, Wurtsmith AFB came under the command of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, and several air refueling squadrons were established.  In 1977, the base mission was expanded to include the B-52 heavy, long-range bomber.  Wurtsmith AFB was officially closed on June 30, 1993 under the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC). 

In November 1977, while collecting groundwater samples, the Air Force detected trichloroethylene (TCE) in three of the seven drinking water wells on the base.  Additional samples collected in 1979 and 1980 also detected TCE.  In 1985 during the early stages of base closure, the Installation Restoration Program (IRP) Phase I records search for Wurtsmith identified 29 sources of concern including the Weapons Storage Area (WSA), two former 6,000-gallon tank trailers buried in the Northern Landfill Area (LF-30/31), the Building 43 Area, and the Building 5098 Jet Engine Test Area.  During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Air Force used the Weapons Storage Area as a jet fighter maintenance area, possibly using TCE for degreasing and deicing the jets.  The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) subsequently identified a TCE-contaminated groundwater plume that appeared to be emanating from this area.  In 1971, two 6,000-gallon tank trailers were buried in the center of the Northern Landfill Area to create a central depository for waste solvents.  The tanks were removed in 1979.  The Northern Landfill Area served as a disposal pit from 1960 to 1979 into which the Air Force disposed of domestic and industrial wastes, including solvents, metals, and paints.  In 1987, the USGS sampled monitoring wells downgradient of the Northern Landfill area and identified TCE, 1,1-dichloroethane, 1,1,1- trichloroethane, and vinyl chloride.  The Air Force used a 500-gallon underground storage tank in the Building 43 Area from 1962 to 1977 to store waste TCE, which it used as a degreaser for the maintenance of fire control equipment in the Building 5098 Area.  After removing the tank, a leak was discovered near the fill pipe on the top of the tank.  In addition, the Air Force apparently dumped solvents, including TCE, near buildings in the Building 5098 Area for weed control.  Pumping drinking water wells in this area caused the contaminants to be drawn toward these wells, resulting in the contamination of additional drinking water wells with TCE.    

Site Responsibility

The site is being addressed through federal actions.  The Air Force has the lead responsibility at the site.  Primary oversight of the cleanup actions at Wurtsmith AFB is provided by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

Threats and Contaminants

Groundwater quality at Wurtsmith AFB has been affected primarily by previous releases of fuels or solvents, such tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), to subsurface soils, or releases associated with waste disposal in several landfills as part of normal historical base operations.  Dissolved TCE was first detected in base water supply wells in 1979. 

Wurtsmith is currently being investigated for releases of perflourinated compounds (PFCs), thought to be associated with flame-suppressant chemicals.  In 2014, the Air Force was designing a pump and treat system to contain groundwater contaminated with PFCs from the FT-02 site.

Cleanup Progress

The site contamination is being addressed by several long-term remedial actions:
• Building 43 TCE Spill - pump and treat (P&T)
• Arrow Street  - P&T System
• Mission Street - P&T reat System
• Benzene Pump and Treat System
• Northern Landfill (LF-30/31) Area- P&T System
• Engineered Groundwater Wetland Treatment System
• FT-02 Perfluorinated Compound (PFC) Pump and Treat System

Future Site Reviews

A base-wide five-year review was completed in September 2004. A second base-wide five-year review was planned for 2009. Due to Air Force funding and contracting issues, this review was not completed until 2011. A third Draft Five Year Review was released by the Air Force in September 2014. The Draft Review concludes that the site is protective of human health and the environment because all remedies are operating as expected and appropriate institutional controls are in place at the base to prevent exposures to site contaminants.


Departure of EPA


EPA notified the Air Force in August 2014 that it would no longer be providing regulatory oversight at Wurtsmith AFB. The Air Force discontinued funding for its support effective October 2014. EPA no longer tracks cleanup progress at Wurtsmith.


Wurtsmith has not yet been added to the NPL. Should it be added to the NPL in the future, it would require negotiation of a Federal Facility Compliance Agreement and direct EPA oversight of the cleanup.


For current information on regulatory oversight of Wurtsmith, contact the Michigan DEQ Project Manager, Robert Delaney at (517) 285-5085.

Community Involvement

Public meetings are occasionally held by the Air Force to provide updates on site cleanup to the surrounding community.

Congressional Interest

None.

Property Reuse

The site is gradually being turned over from the Air Force to the Oscoda Airport Authority for reuse as an industrial park and airfield.  Uses include cargo shipment and maintenance of jumbo jet aircraft by a private company on-site.

Contacts

Remedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA
owen thompson (thompson.owen@epa.gov)
(312) 886-4843

Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA
cheryl allen
(312) 353-6196

Aliases

WURTSMITH USAF BASE
US AIR FORCE WURTSMITH AFB

 

Site Profile Information

This profile provides you with information on EPA's cleanup progress at this Superfund site.

 


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