WMEAC was present for a community meeting with officials from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Gerald R. Ford International Airport last Thursday at Cascade Township Library to discuss the airport’s most recent proposal to address its aircraft deicing runoff, which has caused significant environmental harm to nearby creeks and streams. Some 250 local residents were in attendance, the vast majority from neighborhoods surrounding the airport and the Thornapple River downstream.
Propylene glycol is the primary ingredient in aircraft deicer fluid, commonly used at airports across the country during winter months. Although considered by the EPA to have a relatively low toxicity, to the point where it is found in literally hundreds of household and commercial products, propylene glycol can have a serious impact on waterways in high concentrations. It is known to have high levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), meaning it consumes significant amounts of the oxygen in water that aquatic organisms rely upon for survival. The tributary of the Thornapple River that has historically absorbed the bulk of the airport’s runoff, Trout Creek, is essentially devoid of life, according to neighbors and WMEAC’s own site surveys.
Currently on the table is a $20 million proposal to eliminate discharges into Trout Creek through a combination of a natural filtration system and a mile-long pipe that would lead directly into the Thornapple, where presumably the glycol would be discharged at such low quantities, and diluted to such a high degree that it would not have a noticeable environmental impact. Airport and DEQ officials claim this proposal would discharge approximately 6,000 gallons of glycol in an average winter, 7% of the glycol that can be captured and 80% of the glycol that can be captured and is not currently being captured (note that around 36% of glycol used will evaporate or remain on the aircraft during flight).
For several reasons, the current proposal, itself a revision of a much less ambitious plan, has proved controversial.
“It seems like we’re talking about an old solution: The solution to pollution is dilution. But it’s not, it’s containment and recycling,” said resident Al Parent at the meeting.
Local environmental consultant and engineer James Dixon has been studying the effects of glycol on the local watershed for several years and claimed that “the amount of propylene glycol used on a single jet has the equivalent BOD as 15,000 residents’ sewage in a single day.” He added that CascadeTownship has 15,100 residents, which means propylene glycol usage on a single jet has the same BOD as the entire CascadeTownship in one day. Many residents voiced concern for whether the airport and DEQ were doing enough to protect water resources.
Airport and DEQ officials responded that there was too much “misinformation” about propylene glycol. One official noted that propylene glycol is “highly biodegradable” and the proposed natural filtration system would eliminate the majority of it before it enters the Thornapple. Officials also highlighted that discharges would be “in the same ballpark” as other airports across the country.
The DEQ will host a public hearing this Thursday, June 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cascade Library. Residents interested in voicing their opinion may do so during the meeting or via written comment by e-mailing Sean Syts, Permits Section, Water Resources Division, Department of Environmental Quality, at email@example.com before June 28.
Some additional information: