USAF to step up RE: Widefield Aquifer pollution

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

While Col. Doug Schiess, commander of the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, wouldn’t elaborate on details of the five-year plan, he said information about an internal Air Force report would be released in late June or early July.

The Air Force used firefighting foam at the base for decades that contained perfluorinated compounds. High quantities of the chemical in drinking water from the Widefield Aquifer triggered an EPA advisory last spring.

A Gazette investigation in October revealed that the service kept the foam in use despite Defense Department studies over the years that showed it was harmful to laboratory animals.

Commissioners Longinos Gonzalez and Mark Waller pressed Schiess to reveal how much the mitigation work would cost and who would pay the bill if more contamination was found after the five-year time frame.

“That will be done at a much higher level in the Air Force,” Schiess said, when asked if the reclamation funds were readily available now. “They know that that is a big bill and they have put some money aside. That is being budgeted, but I don’t have details.”


Schiess said the five-year plan will ensure that the ground near Peterson and at the Colorado Springs Airport is free of perflourinated compounds. When ingested, the chemicals can remain in the body for decades. The colonel said natural, untainted runoff will eventually dilute the watershed and bring it up to Environmental Protection Agency standards for safe water…

Perfluorinated chemicals have been used in nonstick pans, in stain-resistant treatments for carpet and even in fast-food containers for decades.

Air Force studies done as early as 1979 revealed that the perfluorinated chemical in its firefighting foam caused liver damage, cellular damage and low birth weight to laboratory animals. It has also been tagged as a potential carcinogen.

Last year, EPA lowered its health advisory levels for perfluorinated compounds to 70 parts per trillion, changing the status of some wells that had been previously deemed safe.

On Thursday, Schiess said that the internal draft report about the contamination in southern El Paso County will likely be completed by the contractor in March. The Air Force will send its final report to the EPA in late April. And that information will be ready for public consumption in June or July, he said.

Schiess also brought the commissioners up to date on interim efforts to treat drinking water using filters for homes and businesses.

He said the Air Force had contacted about two dozen residents who had been using bottled water in their homes. According to the colonel, six homeowners declined offers to install reverse osmosis filtration systems, and four have had those measures implemented.

Schiess said the Fountain Valley Shopping Center is still using bottled water and others, such as Venetucci Farm and the Norad View Mobile Home Park are using granular activated carbon filters.

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