From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Colorado health officials grappling with groundwater contamination from firefighting foam — containing a toxic chemical the federal government allows — have proposed to set a state limit to prevent more problems.
A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment limit for the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) also could give leverage in compelling cleanup by the Air Force, which has confirmed high levels of PFCs spreading from a military air base east of Colorado Springs. More than 65,000 residents who relied on the underground Widefield Aquifer as a water source have had to find alternative supplies or install new water-cleaning systems as a plume of PFCs contamination moves south through the Fountain Valley watershed.
“We need to be able to have not just a carrot, but a stick,” CDPHE environmental toxicologist Kristy Richardson said last week, discussing the effort to set a state limit.
The proposed maximum allowable level of 70 parts per trillion in groundwater — matching a health advisory level the Environmental Protection Agency declared in May 2016 for two types of PFCs — wouldn’t be finalized until April, Richardson said. A boundary has yet to be drawn for where the limit would apply.
But such regulatory action could help state officials navigate a complex environmental problem. Other states have set PFC limits as scientists raise concerns about PFCs, which have been linked to health harm, including low birth weights and kidney and testicular cancers. Few public health studies have been done, even though people south of Colorado Springs apparently have ingested PFCs for years in public drinking water.
An Air Force investigation confirmed contamination of groundwater by PFCs used in the aqueous film-forming foam that fire departments widely use to put out fuel fires, such as those caused by airplane crashes. PFCs also are found widely in consumer products, including stain-proof carpet, microwave popcorn bags and grease-resistant fast-food wrappers.
The chemical properties that make make PFCs useful keep them from breaking down once spilled, especially in water. Scientists say people and wildlife worldwide have been exposed at low levels.
At the Peterson Air Force Base, PFCs contamination of groundwater has been measured at levels up to 88,000 ppt with soil contamination levels as high as 240,000 ppt. And Richardson said PFC levels in groundwater south of Colorado Springs — communities including Security, Widefield, Fountain, Stratmoor Hills, Garden Valley and the Security Mobile Home Park — were measured at a median level of 120 ppt — well above the EPA health advisory limit.
Richardson favored a broad area for the groundwater limit — “so that maybe we can begin to look at other sources. … My biggest concern is the extent” of the plume, she said.