#Colorado Fire Departments Are Switching To A New #PFAS Firefighting Foam, But Concerns Linger — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

About 60 percent of Colorado fire departments report that they have firefighting foam with synthetic chemicals known as PFAS, according to a recent survey by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…

“We are highly cognizant of how dangerous PFAS can be in terms of the cancer-causing properties for our firefighters,” said Greg Pixley, a public information officer with Denver Fire Department “We are working every effort we can to reduce PFAS in our day-to-day operations.”

[…]

An older generation of the firefighting foam containing PFAS has been retired from use in Colorado, and across military bases. Now, a newer version with a different chemical formula is available. Originally it was believed to not accumulate in the body, but research is emerging that shows potentially toxic health effects are concerns for many of the firefighters who use this product on the front lines…

State health officials know PFAS chemicals are a problem. Conducting a survey is one part of the state’s plan to address the health risks. In addition to reporting PFAS foam supplies, health officials asked which fire departments had used PFAS firefighting foam in the past. About 19 departments reporting using the foam.

However, it’s unclear what, if any, testing will happen across those departments that reported using the foam.

The state government has made about $500,000 available with a priority for Colorado’s 890 drinking water districts for testing of PFAS chemicals. But fire departments will be at the back of the line behind drinking water districts to access to those funds, according to state health officials…

According to the state survey, the largest caches of the new PFAS foam is held by Suncor, the Denver Fire Department, South Metro Fire Rescue and the Pueblo Fire Department.

The departments that have large quantities of the new form on hand use it because they respond to fires at regional or municipal airports. The Federal Aviation Administration requires fire responders at some airports to have the PFAS foam on hand to ensure “the extinguishment of the fire for the successful evacuation of passengers and aircrew during an aircraft fire,” according to a statement from the FAA.

“It was a compromise,” said Eric Hurst, a public information officer with South Metro Fire Rescue. “We essentially worked with Centennial Airport to find the safest environmentally friendly [firefighting foam] available and used that.”

The FAA is under the gun to find a replacement by Oct. 4, 2021, at which time it can no longer require the use of PFAS foam.

The agency is currently researching and evaluating replacement firefighting foams. Some airports like London-based Heathrow have switched to a fluorine-free foam that doesn’t have PFAS chemicals linked to health issues…

“[DIA] along with other commercial airports and airport industry associations, continues to press the FAA for a firefighting alternative that would satisfy commercial travel safety responsibilities while reducing the potential for environmental impact,” said Emily Williams, a public information officer with Denver International Airport.

State law does set some limits on how the new PFAS foam can be used. Legislation in 2019 prevents fire districts from using it to conduct training exercises. It is only to be used to fight fires.

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

Cañon City: Stabilization work completed on damaged section of the #ArkansasRiver Riverwalk — The Cañon City Daily Record

From The Cañon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):

A section of the Arkansas Riverwalk east of Ash Street that was damaged by last year’s high runoff has been stabilized, repaired and reopened.

Kyle Horne, the executive director of the Cañon City Area Recreation and Park District, said the water flow last summer chewed away part of the trail and underneath the levee, causing groundwater to appear in the parking lot. That section of the riverwalk has been closed since June for pedestrian safety.

The recreation district partnered with Fremont County to hire Lippis Excavating to repair the damage and stabilize the bank, which took place Tuesday…

The cost of the project is expected to be about $5,000 which will be split 50/50 between the county and the recreation district.

Arkansas Riverwalk map via the City of Cañon City.

Scientists Fight Back Against Toxic ‘Forever’ Chemicals — Wired #PFAS

From Wired (Michelle Cohen Merrill):

Once a symbol of American ingenuity, PFAS were originally conceived as wonder chemicals that could resist stains, repel water, extinguish horrific oil-based fires, and keep eggs from sticking to the pan. Today, we know them as a Frankenstein-like invention, zombie chemicals that will not die.

Chemists created thousands of such compounds by bonding carbon to fluorine in chemical chains, forging one of the strongest bonds ever discovered. Now they have been found across the planet—even in the blood of arctic foxes and polar bears. Public health studies found PFAS in the blood of about 95 percent of Americans. While the health impact of low levels of exposure is less clear, the chemicals are linked to liver, thyroid, and immune effects, cancer, and low birth weight. It will take billions of dollars—and yet more engineering prowess—to remove PFAS from drinking water and the environment. The task seems bleak, even as the US Department of Defense prepares to spend more than $2 billion on cleaning up PFAS on its bases. Firefighting training sites, airports, and industrial sites are also big contributors.

On Friday, the US House of Representatives passed the PFAS Action Act, which would require the EPA to set drinking water limits for two PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) and to designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund cleanup program. Its path forward is uncertain. Even if the Senate passes the measure, the Trump administration has called its provisions “problematic and unreasonable” and threatened a veto.

But here’s a shred of optimism: Some new technologies show promise in breaking those ultra-strong carbon-fluorine bonds, which means the compounds known as “forever” chemicals could be removed from at least some groundwater. “I have actually started to feel a little bit of hope,” says Chris Higgins, an environmental engineer at the Colorado School of Mines and a PFAS expert. “We’re getting some technologies that seem to be working.”

The most promising approach involves an electrical reaction that looks like lightning striking water. Contaminated water goes through a plasma reactor, where argon gas pushes the PFAS compounds to the surface. Electrodes above and below the surface generate plasma—a highly reactive gas made up of positive ions and free electrons—that interacts with the PFAS and breaks the carbon-fluorine bonds.

“Our goal is to completely destroy the compound and not just transfer it from one phase to another,” says Michelle Crimi, an environmental engineer at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, who works on emerging technology to remediate PFAS. The plasma reactor technique was developed by her colleagues Selma Mededovic, a chemical engineer, and Tom Holsen, an environmental engineer.

Crimi is also using ultrasound waves to create cavities—essentially holes—in the water. When they collapse, they instigate physical and chemical reactions that break apart the PFAS chains. Other researchers are working on electrochemical techniques and even soil bacteria that may metabolize PFAS.

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org

The January 2020 “Fountain Creek Chronicles” is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter from the Fountain Creek Watershed & Flood Control District. Here’s an excerpt:

UCCS Values Relationship with Fountain Creek District
Contributed by: Kimberly Reeves, UCCS

More than 100 volunteers from the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs (UCCS) participated in Colorado Springs’ sixth annual Creek Week, working to clear the Templeton Gap Floodway of 40 bags of trash, one and a half grocery carts, and a bicycle wheel.

The District’s Creek Week events raise awareness about the Fountain Creek watershed, by educating volunteers about Colorado’s waterways while clearing litter and debris from the 75-mile long Fountain Creek and 927 square-mile watershed that drains into the Arkansas River. UCCS’ Office of Sustainability has championed efforts to promote events on and around campus since the inaugural event in 2014.

This collaborative effort of private companies, city and county organizations, and non-profits has broadened the reach for our campus community by using resources from all partners to ensure we are communicating the same message to our circles of influence. The connection for students to volunteer through opportunities that support our surrounding community allows them to strengthen their civic engagement and development as world citizens. Creek Week provides a platform to talk about the bigger picture of community members across our watershed from Palmer Lake to Pueblo, which is all supporting healthy waterways through volunteerism.

The past two years, Creek Week has increased its efforts from volunteer clean-up events to involve citizen scientist opportunities, which engaged faculty from UCCS to incorporate these opportunities into their courses. This ability to use the surrounding ecosystem as a place to conduct research benefits our students in not only experiential learning, but also the City of Colorado Springs because our students are investing their time to strengthen our community.

The UCCS community asks for Creek Week dates year-round. It has become a positive expectation that our universities invest in our broader community and provides opportunities to make an impact one clean-up at a time.

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

U.S. House votes to crack down on toxic chemicals; Trump threatens veto — The #Colorado Independent #PFAS

From The Colorado Independent (Allison Stevens):

The U.S. House voted Friday to pass a comprehensive legislative package that would crack down on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of chemicals known as PFAS that are said to cause serious health problems.

Used in tape, nonstick pans and other everyday substances, PFAS have been linked to cancer, decreased fertility, developmental delays and other conditions and have been found in high concentrations in sources of public drinking water and other sites around the country.

The PFAS Action Act includes a series of provisions designed to mitigate their harm. It cleared the House with support from 223 Democrats and 24 Republicans. One hundred and fifty seven Republicans voted against it, as did one Democrat and Michigan independent Rep. Justin Amash. Twenty-four lawmakers did not vote.

Colorado’s delegation was split on the vote, with Democratic representatives voting for the bill and Republicans voting against it…

Friday’s vote came after supporters of the legislation suffered a stinging setback last month, when key PFAS provisions were struck from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before it was signed into law.

Opposition to those provisions from Senate Republicans prompted House Democrats to call the PFAS bill to the floor this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday.

“Last year, our members worked relentlessly to pass bold legislation to tackle the PFAS crisis,” Pelosi said on the House floor. “Unfortunately, at the end of the year, the Senate GOP refused to join the House to secure full, robust protections against PFAS chemicals and key provisions were cut from the NDAA.”

The “Senate GOP obstruction,” she said, “is why we are here today.”

The NDAA does take some steps to address PFAS. It includes provisions that require the U.S. military to transition off of PFAS-laden fire-fighting foam by 2024, ban the foam in exercises and training and test PFAS levels in military firefighters’ blood.

But supporters said the PFAS Action Act passed Friday goes much further.

It would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to list certain PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the EPA’s Superfund program, which would accelerate cleanup of contaminated sites. That would be a “significant first step while we allow the EPA to study the remaining compounds — which needs to start now,” Dingell said in a press release.

The bill would also create a national drinking standard for certain PFAS chemicals, help people understand water testing results, prevent new PFAS chemicals from being approved and more…

Colorado public health officials acknowledge federal action on creating a legally binding drinking water standard is lagging, forcing the state to address a public health crisis it’s ill-equipped to handle. The state is in the process of adopting new regulations after finding PFAS levels above the federal health advisory limit in groundwater across the Denver metro region, Colorado Springs and Boulder County. In September, lawmakers approved $500,000 so that the Colorado Department of Public Health can begin testing public drinking water supplies for the toxic chemical…

Despite its bipartisan support in the House, the bill faces an uphill battle.

First, it must pass the GOP-controlled Senate, where hundreds of House-passed bills are languishing on the desk of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Bloomberg News that the legislation had “no prospects in the Senate.”

If it passes the Senate, then it would move to the White House, which issued a veto threat on Tuesday…

The EPA is already “taking extensive efforts” to address PFAS across the nation, it added — an assertion underscored by the EPA in a statement released on the same day as the White House veto threat.

But critics say the EPA’s “action plan” doesn’t go far enough to contain and clean up PFAS and are skeptical the agency will put public health over corporate profits.

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org

Beckoning the Beavers — Wild Earth Guardians

From Wild Earth Guardians (John Horning):

I love beavers. Ever since I was a kid and watched them slap their tails defiantly, and loudly, to warn their clan of the threatening presence of large animals, I’ve thought beavers were worthy of my admiration. Then I realized they build dams too! As an aspiring dam builder myself, I figured beavers had more than a few things to teach me.

In fact, when the question of what is my favorite spirit animal arises, my response is almost always: beavers. They bring joy and gusto to their daily work and are quite content in mud and water. What’s not to admire?

So, when the opportunity came up in late September to be a beaver for a day with WildEarth Guardians’ restoration crew, I jumped at it—especially since I could bring along my energetic, six-year-old twin boys.

But what it exactly means to be a beaver for a day I did not know. I could only imagine that flowing water, willows, and mud had to be essential ingredients.

What I did know was that we were supposed to convene on the banks of San Antonio Creek—a meandering stream that sits at the bottom of a cleft in the volcanic uplift that is the Jemez Mountains. So, it was there that Wiley, Finn, and I found ourselves on a recent Saturday morning with another thirty souls who, I sensed, were likewise wondering whether they, too, could be adequate beavers for a day.

There, WildEarth Guardians’ restoration director, Reid Whittlesey, laid out our task. Standing next to a large pile of willows and rocks, he explained that our goal was to weave willow, and place rocks and mud. If we did it well, as our dam rose so, too, would the water.

The job of building these beaver dam analogues, or BDAs as they are known, was made easier by the placement of two dozen wooden posts that had been driven into the ground in a cross-crossed pattern across the stream. These posts, placed days earlier by Reid and his crew, provided the necessary foundation for each dam to rise.

And so a beaver clan, a crew of five or six people, was deployed to each of the six dam sites. For my boys—as it seemed for everyone—the excitement of the reality of dam-building overrode the hesitation that often comes with trying something new. In partnership with the other adults, the boys wove the willow back and forth between the poles and watched as others did the same.

Without it really being emphasized we had already embodied one of the critical qualities of beavers: collaboration amongst a family unit to accomplish a grand task.

And steadily each of the dams rose. Not on the scale of a New York City skyscraper, but rather like a humble, sod hut that once housed pioneers on the Great Plains. First one foot, then two feet and, in some cases, three or even four feet of willow, mud, sedge, and stone. Each dam was a unique creation and an imperfectly perfect monument—not to our ability to mimic the wisdom of beavers, but rather to our deep human yearning to heal damaged lands.

Of course, every story of healing and restoring the land and its grace, its beauty, and its dignity is also a story of trauma. For healing would not be necessary if there were no trauma. And this piece of the Santa Fe National Forest, this creek, has been deeply and repeatedly traumatized. Not by some massive and obvious threat, but rather by the insidious and ubiquitous presence of cattle grazing in otherwise arid landscapes.

Absent cows, there would be willows along the stream. And almost everywhere there are willows, beavers thrive. And where beavers thrive there is ecological dynamism, and the land sings, with the literal songs of flycatchers and frogs and with the slithering of snakes and the pattering of shrews and mice. And in the stream itself, native trout grow fatter and more abundant in the cooler, deeper waters that beaver dams create.

Here in New Mexico, there is a long list of endangered species that have been imperiled in the absence of beavers and that would benefit from their return. The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the Southwest willow flycatcher are just a few.

Sadly, the need for BDAs and the return of beavers is not limited to San Antonio Creek. In 2016 ecologists found that beaver occupied fewer than 1% of potential stream habitats in New Mexico. They found the problem even worse on national forests in northern New Mexico, concluding “beaver dams were exceptionally rare on public lands managed for cattle grazing.” (Small et. al 2016, Livestock grazing limits beaver restoration in northern New Mexico, Restoration Ecology.)

But this story of the beaver apocalypse is not unique to New Mexico, nor even to the American West. Beavers have been extirpated from literally tens of thousands of miles of streams and small rivers—the victims of both trapping and habitat degradation. Those ecosystems suffer greatly in their absence.

Our hope, of course, is that beavers will return to San Antonio Creek and make these dams their own. But when and if they do there is yet another challenge they will face: the harsh, deadly reality of a body-crushing trap. On nearly all of New Mexico public lands, trapping is allowed. So as soon as beavers return to the San Antonio Creek, a weekend trapper could eliminate every last one in the entire watershed.

All of these unfortunate realities for beavers reflect antiquated policy dictated by outdated beliefs—that beavers are pests and nuisance animals that should be eliminated any time someone complains. Incredibly, the last time the state of New Mexico wildlife agency did a beaver inventory was in 1956, the year before the television show “Leave it to Beaver” debuted.

Sadly, we can’t just leave it to beavers anymore. And the work of building beaver dam analogues reflects that reality. If we are to heal our streams and make our water supplies more resilient in the face of an ever-warming planet, we need to get busy. We must create and pass new state and federal policies and practices that restore beavers and beaver habitat to every single mile of streams and rivers on national forests, national parks, and all our public lands.

All the beaver clichés aside, we are losing time, losing species, and losing our precious water supplies every day of our collective inaction. I feel urgency not only for the creatures, large and small, whose intrinsic right to exist is being trampled on, but also for my boys and their deep yearnings to see frogs, snakes, and jumping mice animate the wild places they grow up in.

Toward the end of our time as beavers, my boys and I retreated to our nearby campsite where we shared stories of our days’ feats around the fire. That night, we drifted off to sleep to the hooting calls of a pair of Mexican spotted owls nested in the remnant ancient fir and pine forest that cover the valley walls.

The next morning after packing up, we were about to get in the car when my boys proclaimed that we could not leave without one more inspection of “our” beaver dam. Much to their satisfaction, not only was the dam still intact, but the water level had risen noticeably since the previous afternoon. As their energy lingered, the boys hummed, gently sang, and chattered to themselves and to each other in contemplative satisfaction with their work. One walked back and forth across the dam while the other waded in and out of the now waist-deep water. Without further words, we headed back up stream and up the hill to our car. But before moving on, one of my boys said, “Dad, we need to come back and build more beaver dams!”

“Yes, we do,” I said. “Yes, we do.”

For additional photos from Guardians’ Restoration Director, Reid Whittlesey, click here and scroll down.

New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

Nestlé water public hearing re-set for April 26, 2020 — The Ark Valley Voice

Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

In a sign that perhaps Nestlé Water might not find its Chaffee County 1041 permit renewal quite as easy as it had hoped, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners has again changed the date of the public hearing, returning it to the April 26 date that they had initially expected would be honored…

During a Dec. BoCC session, commissioners were not altogether pleased to learn that Nestlé had asked for the required public hearing to be moved forward to Jan. 2020. They appeared “surprised” that county staff appeared to have acquiesced to the company’s request for an earlier date.

Public comments made in response to an earlier Ark Valley Voice article about the topic indicate that there are some who are not pleased with what they consider to be a rubber stamp approval of the state permit that allows Nestlé to continue to draw water from Chaffee County. During the Oct. BoCC session, county staff had indicated that Nestlé had met all the terms of the expiring ten-year contract.

“They have met all the requirements and they been a good neighbor,” said Chaffee Planning Manager Jon Roorda.

It would appear that commissioners are aware that renewal of the permit issued in 2009 for Nestlé Water to take water from Chaffee County for its branded, bottled water product might be more contentious than it was ten years ago. In 2009, the country was in the grips of the Great Recession, identified as the most serious economic downturn since the 1930s, and Chaffee County had experienced that economic impact. In addition, current public sensibilities to water shortages, heightening wildfire danger and the need to protect our natural environments was not as high then as they are a decade later.

Take a walk back in time to read about Nestlé here and here.