Invisible toxic chemicals are contaminating drinking water for 80,000 people south of Colorado Springs, one of 63 areas nationwide where the chemicals, widely used to fight petroleum fires, have been measured at levels the EPA deems dangerous.
These perfluorinated chemicals rank among the worst in an expanding multitude of unregulated contaminants that federal scientists are detecting in city water supplies, including hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and anti-depressants, according to a published report. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) don’t break down. Boiling water won’t get rid of them.
Military airfields are suspected by Colorado health investigators as a point where the chemicals seeped into the Fountain Creek watershed north of Widefield, Fountain and Security. Air Force officials said it’s too early to tell, according to the Denver Post report.
It has reached the point where the water in all 32 of the Security Water and Sanitation District’s municipal wells suffers from PFC contamination at levels exceeding an EPA health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). At one well, PFCs have hit 1,370 ppt, federal data show. It has hit the point where EPA officials recommended pregnant women and small children should not drink local water.
Security Water and Sanitation District manager Roy Heald shut off seven wells. In addition, he mailed notices June 3 informing customers their water is contaminated with chemicals linked to cancer and other ailments. Fountain officials also shut wells.
Some residents, seeing those notices in their water bills about contamination exceeding the May 19 EPA health advisory limit, have switched to bottled water. A few asked local utility officials to pay, only to hear neither the utility nor the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) nor the EPA nor the Air Force will step in. Widefield School District 3 officials are installing water dispensers.
Prolonged exposure to perfluorinated chemicals is linked to health issues: Developmental damage to fetuses during pregnancy, low birth weight, accelerated puberty and distorted bones. The EPA advisory also linked the chemicals to kidney and testicular cancer, liver tissue damage, impaired production of antibodies and cholesterol changes.
Perfluorinated chemicals aren’t regulated under any national water standard, although Vermont and New Hampshire have launched state-level action. Colorado has not.
Utility crews are trying to blend well water as much as possible with cleaner water piped 45 miles from Pueblo Reservoir.
Pueblo Reservoir contains relatively clean water because acid heavy metal contamination of mountain headwaters from dormant mines is diluted. Yet this diverted Arkansas River water costs three times more than local well water, delivered using an $825 million pipeline and treatment plant completed April 30 by Colorado Springs. Security just began buying up to 2.8 million gallons a day from Colorado Springs. Bracing for the bills, Security officials last week began campaigning for residents to minimize watering of gardens and lawns.
CDPHE officials are working with the Air Force to find out where PFCs are entering water.
El Paso County, with CDPHE help, tested 16 private wells south of Peterson Air Force Base. The results showed PFC contamination in 13 of those wells at levels ranging from 100 to 260 ppt.
Air Force officials said they’re conducting a preliminary assessment of airfield activities and that they’ll do a full assessment next year as part of nationwide assessments. Peterson Air Force Base spokesman Steve Brady said local government testing has not confirmed the source.
“It’s too early to say exactly where it is coming from,” Brady said, adding that the Air Force has switched the foam it uses to put out aviation fuel fires to a type that does not contain PFCs.
Military officials are not considering providing bottled water for residents, he said.
Perfluorinated chemicals also come from carpet, clothing, food packaging such as microwave popcorn bags. The chemicals see use in industrial processes, such as manufacturing of Teflon non-stick coatings, for which DuPont has been the target of lawsuits.