Report: Michigan military base water may have caused cancer

OSCODA, Mich. (AP) — A federal health agency says contaminated drinking water might have caused cancer and other chronic disease among veterans and families who lived at a former northern Michigan military base.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released last month a draft report about the Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan, MLive.com reported. The report concluded that people who consumed or had skin contact with Wurtsmith water may be at an increased risk for cancer.

Extremely high levels of benzene and trichloroethylene were documented in the former B-52 bomber base’s water before its 1993 closure.

The report is based on long-term exposure over a period of years. The findings also note that even short-term exposure to trichloroethylene for pregnant mothers during the first trimester could lead to heart birth defects in their children.

The chemical was first found in the base’s water in 1977, but drinking water wells could’ve been contaminated for many years before the discovery, according to the report. The Air Force installed a groundwater treatment system to clean up the trichloroethylene in the 1980s after being sued by Michigan.

The report didn’t consider exposure to perfluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, which have also been found at the base near Lake Huron about 140 miles north of Detroit

The findings could push Congress to consider requiring the Department of Veteran Affairs to extend health benefits to base veterans without having to prove their illness is linked to chemical exposure.

No bill has been introduced. But Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint said he’s looking into creating legislation similar to one forcing the federal agency to cover exposure-related health claims at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Drinking water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with chlorinated solvents.

“We must do more to help veterans exposed to harmful chemicals during their military service,” Kildee said in a statement.