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Michigan first in nation to recruit drones in locating PFAS contamination sites

The state of Michigan will be the first in the nation to use drones in the search for possible per- and polyfluoroalkyl contamination sites, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced Tuesday. (WWMT/MGN Online)

The state of Michigan will be the first in the nation to use drones in the search for possible per- and polyfluoroalkyl contamination sites, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced Tuesday.

The MDEQ is set to launch a drone over Lake Margrethe in Grayling, Michigan this week in an effort to locate springs that could be carrying the potentially harmful contaminants that could be present from past firefighting activities that have formerly taken place at the Camp Grayling military base.

The drone will be flown over the lake equipped with a Forward Looking Infrared camera, which will allow operators to spot cold springs entering the warmer lake. Although cold springs don't necessarily indicate the presence of PFAS, it will allow officials to determine the flow of groundwater from the base into the surface waters and better target sampling efforts.

“To the best of our knowledge, this the first time anyone has ever used a FLIR-equipped drone in the hunt for potential PFAS contamination,” Carol Isaacs, director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART), said in a news release. “Like our first-in-the-nation testing of public water systems, this innovative use of technology is another example of MPART’s proactive approach to this emerging contaminant.”

MPART is overseeing the state's $23 millions effort to locate more contamination sites after an outbreak that left parts of the state, including Cooper Township and Parchment in southwest Michigan, without clean water for up to a month.

PFAS are potentially harmful compounds that are found in substances such are firefighting foams, food packaging and other consumer products. They are also found in several industries such as tanneries, metal platers and clothing manufacturers, according to the MDEQ.

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