Widefield aquifer: ColoradoSPH and @coschoolofmines score grant to study health effects of aqueous film-forming foams

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

Here’s the release from the Colorado School of Public Health:

​Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Colorado School of Mines received a two-year grant to investigate contamination of the drinking water in the towns of Fountain, Security, and Widefield, Colorado. Residents of these towns were exposed to drinking water contaminated with pollutants originating from aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) used in firefighting and training activities.

By measuring biological markers of exposure and health indicators in a sample of approximately 200 people who consumed contaminated water, this study will provide communities and scientists with an improved understanding of the biopersistence and potential health impacts of AFFF-derived poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). PFASs are a class of chemicals widely used in industrial and commercial applications since the 1950s.

In July, a nine-month U.S. Air Force study verified that firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated ground water and soil with PFASs at levels more than 1,000 times an Environmental Protection Agency health advisory limit for similar chemicals.

The grant is from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a program of the National Institutes of Health. This study is being funded because of the recent discovery of the source of contamination, which has impacted the water supplies of these communities for several years.

“This research will contribute to our understanding of the factors driving this unique exposure and how it may affect long-term health,” said Dr. John Adgate, chair of ColoradoSPH’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and principal investigator of the study. “We will collect the first systematic data on blood levels of these persistent compounds in this PFAS-impacted community. While exposure to PFASs has been significantly reduced due to work by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the local water utilities, our hope is that by gathering data on blood levels shortly after people’s peak exposure we can provide better answers on related health effects and potential next steps.”

Currently, little is known about the health effects of human exposure to PFASs in areas with drinking water contaminated by AFFF, and no systematic biomonitoring has been done in these communities.

“Because we suspect that any health effects are likely related to peak blood levels, it is important to collect the blood data and health effect information as soon as we can,” Dr. Adgate said.

Dr. Christopher Higgins, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Mines and a co-investigator for the study, will be applying advanced analytical techniques to examine the potential that a much broader suite of PFASs is present in the impacted water supplies and possibly in people’s blood.

“By using high resolution mass spectrometry to look at both water samples and a subset of human serum samples, we hope to improve our understanding of exactly which compounds bioaccumulate in humans and how long they stick around in the human body,” Higgins said. “We will also explore the links between drinking water exposure, PFAS blood levels, and the potentially related health effects.”

Interventions to the water system like carbon filtration and alternative water supplies recommended by state and county health departments began in early 2016 soon after discovery of the contamination. As a result, exposures to these chemicals have been significantly curtailed. One of the research team’s challenges will be to work with the water utilities and health agencies to attempt to sample water from wells representative of what people were drinking before these interventions started. The study team hopes the additional water data will be useful to CDPHE and the water utilities that have been impacted by this contamination.

The study will also include Anne Starling, PhD​​, assistant professor of epidemiology at ColoradoSPH and Katerina Kechris, PhD​, associate professor of biostatistics and informatics​ at ColoradoSPH.

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.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliot) via The Denver Post:

The University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines said the two-year study aims to determine how much of the chemicals residents absorbed, how quickly their bodies are shedding the contaminants and what the current levels are in the water.

The chemicals are called perfluorinated compounds or PFCs. They have been linked to prostate, kidney and testicular cancer, along with other illnesses.

Firefighting foam containing PFCs has been used at military installations nationwide. PFCs have also been used in non-stick cookware coatings and other applications.

The Air Force announced in 2016 it would switch to some another type of foam believed to be safer.

PFCs were found in well water in three utility systems serving about 69,000 people in the city of Fountain and an unincorporated community called Security-Widefield south of Colorado Springs. Levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended limits.

The utilities have switched to other water sources.

The Air Force determined the chemicals came from firefighting foam used at nearby Peterson Air Force Base.

The new study is designed to look at large-scale impacts of the chemicals, but individual subjects will at least learn what their contamination levels are and can talk to their health care providers about it, said John Adgate, the principal investigator…

Although the study is planned for just two years, with sufficient funding it could be turned into longer-term project, he said.

“There are no strong studies on the long-term health effects of these compounds,” Adgate said.

The Colorado study is funded by an initial grant of about $247,000 from the National Institutes of Health.

Petersen Air Force Basin Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo credit: MilitaryBases.com.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):

Approval for the study of residents in Fountain, Security and Widefield was announced Thursday by the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Colorado School of Mines. It will examine how perfluorinated compounds, a class of chemicals contained in the foam, have impacted the health of a small group of residents…

Water providers have added filters and have switched to untainted sources since the contamination was revealed, but perfluorinated compounds are known to stay in the human body for decades after they’re consumed…

The $275,000 local study comes after Congress approved a wider national effort as part of a military policy bill this month. The national study will help federal officials understand contamination reported near military bases around the nation that used the firefighting foam. Used to fight fuel fires, the chemical-laden foam was finally removed from Peterson Air Force base last year.

The Air Force had been studying its toxic qualities since the Carter administration.

Studies by the Air Force as far back as 1979 demonstrated the chemicals were harmful to laboratory animals, causing liver damage, cellular damage and low birth weight of offspring.

The Army Corps of Engineers, considered the military’s leading environmental agency, told Fort Carson to stop using the foam in 1991 and in 1997 told soldiers to treat it as a hazardous material, calling it “harmful to the environment.”

In 2000, the EPA called for a phaseout of the chemicals and later declared they were “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

The Air Force plans more groundwater studies at Peterson Air Force Base next year as the Colorado Department of Health and Environment considers setting a groundwater limit for the chemical in the Widefield aquifer. The limit would be 70 parts per trillion – that’s a shot glass of the chemical in 107 million gallons of water.

From KOAA.com:

“What’s unknown here is what are the long term health consequences of exposure to these compounds and this study will begin to look at that,” Dr. John Adgate, principal investigator of the study at the Colorado School of Public Health said.

After drinking water was tainted in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas a year and a half ago which reports link to Peterson Air Force Base firefighting foam, many wondered if this could make them sick.

“The things that we’re going to look at are some live enzyme tests and also some markers of immune function,” Dr. Adgate said…

On Thursday, his research team announced they got the green light on funding for the two-year study.

“I’m happy, I’m excited that we get to do the work, I know people are concerned,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to do something that’s important for public health in the state of Colorado and these folks in particular in Fountain, Security and Widefield.”

He’s hoping to find out how persistent these compounds are in a group of 200 volunteers, all people from across the three affected areas.

“Measure both their blood levels and collect some household water and look at the relationship between that and where they live, how long they’ve lived there and some markers of health effects,” he said.

And regardless of the outcome of the study, he says the first order of business is making sure people are no longer being exposed.

“Trying to offer them what we can in terms of interventions that assure that and answer other questions for example, can we grow vegetables with this?” he said.

Researchers will start looking for that pool of 200 volunteers in the first half of 2018, focusing on long-term residents.

They’re expecting to hold more public meetings to hear from the community before they move forward with signing up volunteers.</blockquote

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Widefield aquifer: Perfluorinated compounds shut down operations at Venetucci Farm

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From KRDO.com (Colleen Sikora):

A majority of the Venetucci Farm revenue came from leasing wells on the property to Security Water Sanitation District.

But that lease has ended, because of perfluorinated compounds have contaminated the water in Security-Widefield.

“There’s a water remediation plan that needs to come together and we’ve decided we can be part of that solution because the wells to provide drinking water for those communities,” Sam Clark with Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which owns Venetucci Farms, said. “This is essentially kind of an agreement to row together over the next couple of years working on a solution… The consequence of that is we have to make some staff changes and change some of our operations in 2018 and until the remediation plan for the water is implemented.”

[…]

“This farm is one of the many casualties of this water contamination,” [Susan] Gordon said.

Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Mark Shea of Colorado Springs Public Works Department was early to the meeting with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District with the good news that Colorado Springs voters have approved funding of the Fountain Creek Flood Mitigation Project by approving Ballot Issue 2A. The project has not been funded for several years, but some of the projects have been funded through the general fund, explained Engineer Richard Mulledy. The project is now the subject of litigation between Colorado Springs and the LAVWCD, so Attorney Bart Mendenhall urged both sides not to get into the territory of the lawsuit in progress.

Mulledy has been at the helm of the storm water project for two and a half years. Anthony Nunez, Director from Pueblo, asked Mulledy if the current 2A funding replaced the Enterprise Zone, which was originally designed to fund the project but voted out by the people of Colorado Springs. Mulledy said yes. The 2A mandate is intended only for capital projects associated with Fountain Creek Flood Mitigation, drainage maintenance over the 395 square miles of the Colorado Springs area, and the water quality program associated with it. Fees for litigation are not included…

Winner brought up sedimentation as the major cause of the North La Junta flooding problem. “Thirteen feet of sediment under the North La Junta Bridge,” said Winner. “More like 15 feet,” said Bud Quick, whose volunteer earth-moving has protected North La Junta several times. Earlier Quick had declared the problem of flooding in North La Junta will never be solved until the river is dredged and sediment controlled in the Arkansas River.
At the end of the meeting, Rose Ward thanked the LAVWCD for its help in flood mitigation for North La Junta, and at the present time for helping them establish a special district that will enable North La Junta Conservancy District to help itself.

#ColoradoSprings in a scramble to get finance systems in place to collect #stormwater fees

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

…the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, composed of City Council, must approve placing the monthly $5-per-household fee on residential utility bills, for which the city would pay the agency a one-time fee of $1.8 million and $200,000 a year, the Gazette reported.

Approval of Utilities handling collections is expected, and Strand says it appears that customers who don’t pay the stormwater fee would risk losing all utility services.

“We’re discussing this with Utilities [staff],” Strand says. “If someone doesn’t pay their bill, what’s likely to happen is their utilities will be turned off.”

Fees of $30 per acre for non-residential developed parcels will be billed by the city, which must set up the mechanics to do that. Undeveloped properties will be assessed by the stormwater manager based on impervious surface. (Suthers has said the city will pay an annual bill of about $100,000 for its property, including park land.) Those, too, will be billed by the city.

Strand says the consequence for nonpayment of non-residential billings is “likely” a lien placed on the property, which would require cooperation from El Paso County, the keeper of deed records. “The county commissioners I’ve talked to say they will cooperate,” he says.

In 2011, when the city wanted to collect $765,000 still owed for stormwater fees implemented in 2007 but halted in 2009, county officials refused to add the fees to property tax bills or deeds. Those fees, however, were not approved by voters.

Another complication is which properties, if any, will be deemed exempt from the stormwater fee. The measure approved on Nov. 7 entitles the city to bill nonprofits and churches, but what about federal agencies, such as post offices?

Federal agencies didn’t pay the city’s stormwater fees imposed in 2007, citing sovereign immunity and claiming the fees were a tax and, thus, unconstitutional. But, thanks to a bill signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, which amended the Clean Water Act, the federal government will pay its fair share of local stormwater management services, according to the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

Whether that bill applies to military installations is unclear. However, the association wrote in a newsletter that the law was envisioned as a way to resolve billing disputes with various federal agencies, including in Aurora where the city had billed Buckley Air Force Base $143,445 in outstanding stormwater fees as of May 2010.

Although Strand initially said he thought Peterson Air Force Base, which overlaps into the city limits, could be exempted, when told of the 2011 amendment to the Clean Water Act, he was eager to learn more about it.

“They use our resources, and we respond to help them with fire protection, although they have their own fire service,” he says. “I think they ought to be accountable under this current situation [ballot measure] we passed on Tuesday [Nov. 7].”

“This is a fine example of the new relationship between Pueblo and Colorado Springs” — Terry Hart

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.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

Pueblo County officials said Wednesday that they are excited about Colorado Springs voters approving a ballot measure securing $17 million in annual stormwater fees to be used exclusively for stormwater drainage and flood control projects.

“This is a fine example of the new relationship between Pueblo and Colorado Springs. I think it’s wonderful to have two communities rolling up their sleeves to tackle problems the two communities share,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

The money coming from the new ballot measure will be used to fund projects, including the list of 71 projects identified in the intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs regarding the permit for the Southern Delivery System. SDS is the large pipeline that transfers water from the Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs…

The IGA commits the Front Range city and its utilities department to pay $460 million for storm water infrastructure, maintenance and education programs over the next two decades.

“As evidenced by the incredible progress that has been made in our stormwater program over the past two years, the city of Colorado Springs is committed to operating an outstanding stormwater program,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

“Our commitment, and the commitment of our citizens, is evident in passage of Ballot 2A to provide a dedicated funding source for stormwater infrastructure, operations and maintenance.”

Suthers said this commitment will continue as the city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities invest $460 million over the next two decades to stormwater operations that will improve the city’s ability to mitigate flooding and preserve water quality while meeting the requirements of its MS4 Permit.

#ColoradoSprings: Is Issue 2A a springboard to outsized government spending?

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

While Mayor John Suthers touts stormwater fees as a route to financial stability for Colorado Springs, others see them as a symptom of the city’s insatiable appetite for cash.

Some worry the city will inevitably raise the fees, which appear on El Paso County’s November ballot as Issue 2A.

According to the ballot language, the city can raise the fees if ordered to do so by a judge, to come into compliance with state and federal laws or to abide by any intergovernmental agreements preceding June 1, 2016.

A high-profile lawsuit filed against the city by state and federal governments or an intergovernmental agreement the city entered into with Pueblo County last year are the two most likely causes of future fee increases.

Suthers argues that any increase from the agreement with Pueblo would be minimal and 2A is a proactive effort to mitigate high-dollar judgments against the city in the ongoing lawsuit.

If passed, the fees would charge homeowners $5 a month and nonresidential property owners $30 per acre each month. The fees would last 20 years and are expected to raise as much as $18 million a year for the city’s stormwater obligations, which currently are met using the general fund.

With a dedicated stormwater funding source in place, money freed in the general fund would be spent hiring new police officers and firefighters, Suthers said. If 2A passes, the city will be in good financial shape for the next two decades, he has said.

But Councilmen Bill Murray and Don Knight, who oppose 2A, are dubious.

Knight said the city’s wants will always be greater than the budget allows. The general fund has increased in recent years and the city can afford to continue paying for stormwater that way.

And Murray said new police officers and firefighters serve a “Trojan horse” and open the door for fee increases.

In April 2016, the city entered into a $460 million, 20-year agreement with Pueblo County to complete 71 stormwater projects. The city’s annual investments in those projects increase
every five years and average $20 million a year over the life of the agreement. The investments currently sit at $17 million a year.

If 2A passes and revenue hits the $18 million estimate in 2019, the first full year the fees will be in effect, the city can cover the $17 million investments. But in 2021 the city’s scheduled investments increase to $19 million a year, leaving a $1 million deficit.

Suthers said he expects growth to help cover the increases, but money from the general fund can also help.

Widefield Aquifer: USAF responds to Fountain City Council concerns

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):

Peterson Air Force Base bosses worked Tuesday to soothe the Fountain City Council’s frustrations over the base’s role in polluting drinking water for thousands of residents in southern El Paso County…

“We have two objectives: One is to be as transparent as humanly possible,” Col. Eric Dorminey, vice commander of Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, told the council. “Two is to foster the partnership we have with the city of Fountain.”

The Air Force wants the pollution cleaned up as badly as local residents do, Dorminey told the council.

“We are committed to finding a means to mitigate these concerns,” he said.

Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said the council knows better than to shoot the messengers from Peterson.

“While Peterson is where this potentially is coming from, they are not the ones who pull the strings,” Ortega said. “The leaders in Washington, D.C., are the ones we need to poke and prod.”

Monday, local officials twisted arms in Washington to prod the Air Force into faster action on the issue.

Officials from Fountain, Security and Widefield met with Air Force leaders at the Pentagon.

Locals are frustrated that they’re left with a substantial bill to install filters or bring in other water sources to get perfluorinated compounds out of their drinking water.

While the Air Force provided filters as part of an initial $4.3 million effort to provide clean water, the service didn’t come up with cash for buildings to house them, nor did it budget for pipelines to connect water users to other sources.

Water districts and utilities in Security, Widefield and Fountain have paid $6 million in checks responding to the water crisis, and they expect that tap to hit $12.7 million by the end of 2018.

The Air Force has said it won’t reimburse water districts for most of those expenses.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican who arranged the Pentagon confab, called the gathering productive…

Lamborn said it remains unclear, though, whether the Air Force will pay up.

The congressman said he’s frustrated by the military’s slow response to the contamination…

The City Council meeting also comes a day after an open house held by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on a proposed site-specific groundwater standard in central and southern El Paso County for the toxic chemicals.

The standard would limit two well-known types of perfluorinated compounds in the area’s groundwater to 70 parts per trillion (ppt), or a shot glass of the chemical in 107 million gallons of water.

It also would create the state’s first legally enforceable means to make polluters clean up contaminated areas. The likely boundaries extend across a wide swath of the county, including central and eastern Colorado Springs, Peterson Air Force Base and southern portions of Fort Carson.

State officials plan to release their draft of the rules in December, and a hearing is slated for April 9.

While Fountain now relies on clean water from Colorado Springs Utilities, the city could be forced to pull water from the aquifer in a drought.

At the council meeting, leaders said they have been frustrated by the lack of communication from the Air Force. They had been asking to meet with Peterson bosses for months.