PFAS water sample labeled

Kristin VanDenBerge, staff geologist with company Arcadis, labels a groundwater sample collected Oct. 30 at Camp Grayling’s airfield, part of a research project to track and map a PFAS contamination plume.

GRAYLING — A cutting-edge technology is in use for the first time at Camp Grayling’s airfield.

The National Guard Bureau has partnered with companies Arcadis and Pace Analytical to pilot a real-time PFAS analysis project to map a plume of the contaminant in groundwater. It’s the initial in-field use of a mobile PFAS laboratory since its technology received federal accreditation.

“We are the only PFAS mobile lab in the country,” said Patrick Letterer, quality manager for Pace Analytical.

PFAS, which is an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are pervasive in modern society. They have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they are expected to take thousands of years to degrade and some even accumulate in people’s bodies.

An underground plume of PFAS has been detected in Graying, the result of years of officials at the military installation using firefighting foam that unknowingly contained the toxic chemicals.

The Arcadis and Pace Analytical research project will help Camp Grayling officials by its detection and three-dimensional map of the PFAS plume — a high-resolution picture that can help with remediation efforts later.

“We are super excited to have this technology piloted here in our state,” said Jonathan Edgerly, environmental manager for Michigan Army National Guard.

The tests are most beneficial in the rapid-response available for PFAS concentration analysis, as quick as 24 hours.

Traditionally, certified results can take up to 3 or 4 months to return, said Bonnie Packer, technical PFAS leader with National Guard Bureau.

This method is much faster, she said.

“You are able to characterize exactly where the PFAS is in the water very quickly,” Packer said. “We can move to solutions much quicker.”

Scientists take groundwater samples at specific spots that are downstream from expected contamination source areas. The samples are analyzed and based on concentration levels, new samples are then taken at new spots in the effort to map the plume.

Joseph Quinnan, senior vice president and principal hydro-geologist with Arcadis, said the mobile lab currently can analyze about 20 samples each day, with hopes to streamline the process up to 40 samples daily.

Both water and soil samples are taken when possible every 8 feet down to 60 feet deep, and then analyzed in this pilot study.

A key goal is to better understand how PFAS moves through both different soil types and water, which is not yet well understood, Quinnan said.

Information gleaned from this research effort will help state officials “match up puzzle pieces” with groundwater and soil sampling done by Michigan environmental officials beyond the military property boundaries, Packer said.

Randy Rothe, district supervisor for the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, said the much faster test results in this project makes for exciting technology to tackle these chemicals classified as worldwide emerging contaminants.

“We don’t have to wait 4 to 6 weeks for results to come back to figure out where to go next,” Rothe said.

Michael Jury, senior environmental manager with EGLE, agreed there are many advantages, particularly efficiency with both time and money. It may even help pinpoint otherwise unknown contamination sources, he said.

Research scientists are expected to continue their work at Camp Grayling’s airfield through November, perhaps wrapping up before the Thanksgiving holiday.

This research is funded through the federal Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, the U.S. Department of Defense’s technology demonstration and validation program.

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