Facing $billions in costs for #PFAS cleanup the Pentagon is lobbying for reduced standards

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The Pentagon is reportedly lobbying for a more lenient standard for cleaning up toxic chemicals used for decades in firefighting foam that have been found in drinking water in southern El Paso County and around the country.

Even if the Pentagon is successful, the Air Force appears unlikely to get off the hook for cleaning up the contaminated Widefield aquifer serving tens of thousands of residents south of Colorado Springs, state health officials said.

The Defense Department’s push to revise safety standards comes as it faces billions of dollars in cleanup costs tied to its decades-long use of a firefighting foam laced with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals, known as PFAS, are tied to cancer, liver disease and low infant birth weight.

The lobbying appears aimed at influencing the Environmental Protection Agency’s groundwater cleanup standard — a level at which cleanup would be required of polluters.

In a report to Congress, the Pentagon said an appropriate level is 380 parts per trillion, the New York Times reported. It’s at least five times what the EPA says could be harmful to people, and dozens of times higher than another federal agency says is toxic to people.

At that level, the military could avoid paying to clean up many contaminated sites across the nation, said David Andrews, senior scientist for the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group.

“Even if it’s the same number of sites, the amount of cleanup you’re doing at each site would be drastically reduced,” Andrews said. “The likely impact is that DoD is really trying to pass on the responsibilities and the cost for cleaning up this contamination. Which is dreadful.”

In a statement, the Pentagon said it takes its cleanup responsibility “seriously.”

“DOD is not seeking a different or weaker cleanup standard but wants the standard risk-based cleanup approach that is based on science and applies to everyone,” the statement said.

Still, one of Delaware’s Democratic U.S. senators, Tom Carper, claimed in a letter to the EPA that the Defense Department is currently only cleaning up sites where groundwater readings exceed 400 parts per trillion, and only removing the chemicals to 70 ppt. The Pentagon was joined by NASA and the Small Business Administration in lobbying for more relaxed standards, the senator said.

The Pentagon report only referenced two PFAS varieties — PFOA and PFOS — even though thousands of other varieties are known to exist. The report was issued last year, and reported Thursday by The New York Times, along with Carper’s letter.

The Defense Department’s maneuvering is expected to have little impact on cleanup operations around Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado health officials say.

State regulations would still force the Air Force to clean up the tainted Widefield aquifer to a more stringent standard that is in line with the EPA’s current health advisory, according to Kelly MacGregor, a Colorado Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman.

The state’s Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously in April to adopt a site-specific groundwater quality standard of 70 ppt for the same two chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — combined.

Even without the state standard, the aquifer’s contamination downstream from the base is so bad that cleanup efforts around Peterson would likely go unaffected by the Pentagon’s lobbying.

Seven wells drilled about three years ago in the Widefield aquifer showed PFOS at levels of 400 ppt or greater. One well drilled at the Colorado Springs Airport found the chemical at 1,600 ppt.

Neither the state’s adopted groundwater standard, nor lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., touch on the thousands of other types of chemicals, also called perfluorinated compounds.

For communities affected by use of the foam, such as Security, Widefield and Fountain, that could be a significant problem, Andrews said.

For example, another type of chemical called PFHxS is often associated with use of the firefighting foam. And no other type of perfluorinated compound was as common in drinking water samples taken from Security or Fountain wells as PFHxS, nor present at such high levels, according to EPA drinking water data.

A couple of other chemicals were reported as frequently in wells serving Widefield. But again, none were as consistently high as PFHxS.

It also has been found in the drinking water of dozens of other water districts across the country, EPA results show. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says it could cause liver damage and a decreased ability to respond to vaccines.

Several other types of PFAS also have raised health concerns while being found in water systems across the country.

“Really we’d like to see the EPA and the DoD focusing on reducing the total PFAS contamination … shifting into high gear and taking responsibility for cleaning up all of this contamination,” Andrews said.

Judge Matsch pauses #ColoradoSprings #stormwater lawsuit until April 12, 2019

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

Colorado Springs and the four parties suing the city now have an extra month to either settle a longstanding lawsuit over federal stormwater permit violations or agree how to continue the case in court.

U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch in December ordered the case paused until this month so the parties could find common ground. The lawsuit was to restart last week, but Matsch extended the break by more than a month.

Now the parties have until April 12 to agree on next steps, or the case goes back to court.

The request for a break in the case came from the plaintiffs — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District — after Matsch ruled that Colorado Springs violated federal stormwater regulations at three development sites.

Security files suit against Air Force over water contamination –Pueblo Chieftain

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From the Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

It’s been nearly three years since the U.S. Air Force acknowledged that toxic chemicals from Peterson Air Force Base contaminated groundwater under the city of Security, forcing it to stop using well water that served its 19,000 customers.

This week, Security officials and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation answered with a federal lawsuit in Denver asking for nearly $19 million in damages from ongoing contamination.

What’s causing it isn’t in doubt. A military firefighting foam that contains perfluorinated chemicals has been seeping into groundwater south of Peterson AFB since 1970 and has contaminated the underlying Widefield and Windmill Gulch aquifers.

Air Force officials confirmed the contamination in an August 2016 study, and the Security Water District stopped using its 24 groundwater wells the following month. Then, it began buying water through the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.

Despite the 2016 Air Force study, the lawsuit says the federal government rejected a claim for damages last year, forcing Security and the Pikes Peak foundation, a nonprofit charity, to sue for damages.

The water district has itemized $15.5 million in losses and expenses related to finding a new water supply for the community.

The foundation, which owns Venetucci Farms in El Paso County, is asking for $3.1 million in damages for losing access to water suitable for growing crops.

The lawsuit gives a detailed account of how Air Force officials used the firefighting foam at Peterson AFB since 1970. It was used mostly in training, though the Air Force also sprayed contaminated water over the base’s golf course. It was also poured into the Colorado Springs city sewers…

On Wednesday, representatives from the Defense Department testified before a House subcommittee about the extent of the problem. They said the foam’s chemicals have been found in more than 560 public and private water systems nationally.

@SenatorBennet, @SenCoryGardner & Colleagues Introduce #PFAS Action Plan of 2019

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

Bipartisan bill would designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under our environmental protection laws

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), with a bipartisan group of colleagues, today introduced legislation that would mandate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), within one year of enactment, declare per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and also enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.

“It is inexcusable that the Trump administration continues to delay action to address PFAS contamination across the country,” Bennet said. “This bipartisan bill will ensure contaminated sites are cleaned up and resources are available to communities in Colorado so they have access to safe drinking water. Passing this measure is one of many steps we must take to address this public health threat with the urgency it requires.”

“This bipartisan legislation will allow EPA to pursue polluters responsible for PFAS contamination and provide the communities remediation options through Superfund,” Gardner said. “PFAS contamination is a serious issue facing our communities and we need to act quickly to address this challenge. I will continue working to make sure Coloradans have access to clean and safe drinking water.”

In May 2018, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that EPA would propose designating PFOA and PFOS, two specific PFAS chemicals, as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including CERCLA Section 102. Nearly a year later, on February 14, 2019, EPA released its long-anticipated PFAS Action Plan. The plan included another commitment by EPA to make that designation for PFOA and PFOS, but did not identify the available statutory mechanism it would use, nor how long the designation process would take to complete.

Clear and swift action from Congress to list PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA would advance the action already proposed by EPA, enabling the agency to protect human health and the environment in an expeditious manner.

Bennet’s reaction to the EPA’s plan, and his record of two years of work to address PFAS in Colorado and across the country, is available HERE.

In addition to Bennet and Gardner, original cosponsors include U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Joe Manchin (D-WV). U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) led the introduction of companion legislation in the House of Representatives earlier this Congress.

The bill text is available HERE.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The senators’ PFAS Action Plan for 2019 comes after the Environmental Protection Agency was criticized by environmental groups and affected residents for not going further in its plan for addressing the chemicals.

The bipartisan legislation — Bennet is a Democrat, Gardner a Republican — mandates the EPA declare all perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, man-made compounds also known as PFAS, as “hazardous substances” within one year of the bill’s passage. The designation would clear the way for the EPA to use Superfund money to clean up contaminated sites, while opening the door for the government to sue polluters for cleanup costs.

“It seems like a positive step,” said Meghan Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It really could be a driver for PFAS groundwater investigations and contaminations (cleanups) across the state.”

[…]

The legislation does not address any other aspect of the EPA’s oversight of those chemicals, such as whether the agency should regulate the chemicals in a similar fashion as lead, cyanide and mercury.

Should it pass, it’s impact on southern El Paso County — where the drinking water of tens of thousands of Security, Widefield and Fountain residents was tainted — remained unclear Friday.

The Air Force is in the midst of a yearslong process to address the chemicals that is similar to the federal Superfund program, due to the decadeslong use of a firefighting foam containing the toxic chemicals at Peterson Air Force Base that was detected in groundwater.

The Air Force is still investigating the contamination — a process that was expected to take years. And any cleanup steps — such as removing the chemicals from the Widefield aquifer — have not been announced, nor has money been allocated for such cleanup efforts.

In the meantime, water districts serving Security, Widefield and Fountain have spent millions of dollars installing treatment systems and piping in water from elsewhere to remove the chemicals from residents’ tap water to nondetectable levels.

Two other communities in Colorado — in Boulder and Adams counties — also have discovered the chemicals in their drinking water. Both contamination sites were near fire departments that used the same toxic firefighting foam that was a mainstay at Peterson Air Force Base, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water Leave Military Families Reeling — The New York Times #PFAS

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From The New York Times (Julie Turkewitz):

When Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Fortune returned from Iraq, his body battered by war, he assumed he’d be safe.

Then the people around him began to get sick. His neighbors, all living near five military bases, complained of tumors, thyroid problems and debilitating fatigue. Soon, the Colorado health department announced an unusually high number of kidney cancers in the region. Then Mr. Fortune’s wife fell ill.

The military, it turned out, had been leaching toxic chemicals into the water for decades.

Mr. Fortune felt “stabbed in the back,” he said. “We give our lives and our bodies for our country, and our government does not live up to their end of the deal.”

That was 2016. Since then, the Defense Department has admitted that it allowed a firefighting foam to slip into at least 55 drinking water systems at military bases around the globe, sometimes for generations. This exposed tens of thousands of Americans, possibly many more, to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of man-made chemicals known as PFAS that have been linked to cancers, immune suppression and other serious health problems.

Though the presence of the chemicals has been known for years, an announcement last week from the Environmental Protection Agency for the first time promised regulatory action, a significant acknowledgment of the startling scope of the problem that drew outrage from veterans and others living in contaminated communities.

Acting administrator Andrew Wheeler said that the agency would begin the process of potentially limiting the presence of two of the compounds in drinking water, calling this a “pivotal moment in the history of the agency.”

The admission drew some praise, but many said that it was not enough and that millions of people would keep ingesting the substances while a regulatory process plods along. “It should have been called an inaction plan,” said Judith Enck, a former E.P.A. regional administrator appointed by President Barack Obama.

While the military has used the chemicals extensively, it is far from the only entity to do so, and in recent years, companies like DuPont have come under fire for leaching PFAS into water systems.

All told, 10 million people could be drinking water laced with high levels of PFAS, according to Patrick Breysse, a top official at the federal Centers for Disease Control. Mr. Breysse has called the presence of the chemicals “one of the most seminal public health challenges” of the coming decades.

The residents of Fountain, a mountain-flanked suburb of Colorado Springs, were told of the contamination by local officials who had been required by the E.P.A. to test the water for the substances, a step toward possible regulation. Soon dozens of communities from New York to Washington State discovered their drinking water was also polluted with PFAS.

Many people began demanding that state and military officials test their blood for the chemicals, hoping to learn the extent of their presence in their bodies.

The military has started an expensive cleanup effort that has involved shifting entire municipalities to new water sources and assessing toxic plumes that continue to spread for miles.

Maureen Sullivan, the military’s deputy assistant secretary for environment, said the government had moved “aggressively” to tackle the problem, assessing cleanup duties and looking for alternatives to the firefighting foam, a version of which the military still uses.

“I’m proud of what the Department of Defense has done in the past two-plus years,” she said.

But frustration persists. The military never alerted all of the people who drank polluted water, meaning some are still in the dark. When asked how many people were affected by contamination, Ms. Sullivan said she “couldn’t hazard a guess.”

The Colorado Springs Gazette takes a look at the new @EPA #PFAS rule-making

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 Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday unveiled its long-awaited plan for tackling the toxic chemicals contaminating the Widefield aquifer, immediately coming under fire from environmental groups and some El Paso County residents for not going far enough.

The agency said it would begin the yearslong process of setting a safe drinking water limit for two types of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds by year’s end, while studying the toxicity of other varieties and taking steps to strengthen groundwater cleanup measures across the nation.

Environmental groups across the nation and residents in southern El Paso County criticized the plan for not going far enough to protect them and millions of other Americans whose drinking water sources contain the man-made chemicals.

The plan does nothing to hasten the implementation of a drinking water standard, and it largely ignores all but a couple of types of the chemicals — including those found most commonly in bloodstreams of Security, Widefield and Fountain residents.

Doug Benevento, the EPA’s regional administrator, said the agency is doing all it can to address the toxic chemicals as quickly as legally possible.

“We get it’s frustrating, because people want something done now,” Benevento said.

“And what we are required to do though under the Safe Drinking Water Act is a scientific process — and there’s an economic portion of it too — that we’re required to go through before we make a final determination. And we’re in that process right now.”

The substances, also known as PFAS, are man-made chemicals used for decades in a military firefighting foam, including at Peterson Air Force Base. They also were used in myriad nonstick household products, such as carpet cleaners, Teflon products and fast-food wrappers.

Also called perfluorinated compounds, they have been linked to several health ailments, including cancer, liver disease and high cholesterol.

Specifically, the EPA’s new 72-page plan calls for proposing a “national drinking water regulatory determination” later this year for the two best-known types of perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS.

Such determinations are considered an opening step for regulating the chemicals and setting a maximum contaminant level — similar to what exists for such chemicals as lead, cyanide and mercury.

Still, it could take three to five years before the chemicals are regulated, said Bob Benson, an EPA toxicologist.

@EPA to limit manmade chemicals in drinking water #PFAS

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From Reuters:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will announce on Thursdays limits on how much toxic chemicals from cookware and carpeting are allowed in drinking water.

The agency will announce a plan to control a group of chemicals known as PFAS that are linked to cancer, liver and thyroid damage, and other health and fetal effects. The substances, which include PFOA and PFOS, are found in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and other manmade materials.

Acting administrator Andrew Wheeler will make the announcement at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT)…

An EPA statement about Thursday’s announcement did not mention a specific level for the substances.

ABC News Live interviewed Wheeler on Wednesday and reported that drinking water systems around the country will be tested for the chemicals at lower levels than an earlier round of testing in 2012.

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

This announcement will be good (but too late) news for the folks in this article by Faith Miller that’s running in the Colorado Springs Independent:

For Steve Patterson, any decision the Environmental Protection Agency makes around whether to regulate toxic PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water is too little, too late.

That’s apparent when he counts off the family members who he believes have already fallen victim to the Air Force firefighting foam that leached into drinking water sources in Fountain, Security-Widefield and the Stratmoor neighborhood of southeast Colorado Springs for decades.

At least 10 of Patterson’s family members and in-laws, including his father, sister, uncle, cousin and niece, have died from different kinds of cancer. A dozen or so more family members are battling cancer. And recently, his 14-year-old grandson required a kidney transplant.

Not all of these people are related by blood, so it’s unlikely that the high occurrence of disease, predominantly kidney- and colon-related, is purely genetic. But Patterson’s family members share at least one deadly risk factor: They all spent years in an area contaminated by chemicals which, according to a recent report in Politico, the EPA doesn’t plan to limit in drinking water.

“We have a huge family, and it’s 
only the ones out here [in Stratmoor, Fountain, Security-Widefield],” Patterson says. “Now the ones that live in town, they’re not having that problem. And so that’s how I know it has to be connected.”

[…]

Evidence that drinking water in the Fountain and Security-Widefield areas was contaminated with the toxic chemicals began to emerge in 2015, and the affected water districts changed sources or added treatment systems to filter out the chemicals. The EPA issued a drinking water advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFASs in May 2016.

But prior to those changes, some groundwater wells in the area had tested at PFAS levels several times that limit. And some of the approximately 65,000 residents had, like Patterson’s family, been exposed to the chemicals for many years.

Patterson’s skeptical that the government will do anything to help longtime residents who’ve suffered still-unknown consequences from the PFAS chemicals that leached into their drinking water.

“It’s not that we’re looking for money. We’re looking for like, who’s going to take care of me?” Patterson says. “I mean, what is it in my system … what is the government going to do to fix it and help us?”

In December, initial results from a study by the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines showed that Security-Widefield and Fountain residents who had lived in the area for at least three years before 2015 had higher-than-normal levels of three PFAS chemicals in their blood.

Study participants had blood levels of one toxic compound, PFHxS, that were about 10 times as high as U.S. population reference levels. They had about twice as much PFOS, another chemical in the PFAS group, as the general population. Previous studies have linked this chemical to thyroid hormone effects in humans.

And levels of the chemical PFOA — which human studies have linked to cancer — were 40 to 70 percent higher than U.S. reference levels.

As public awareness of widespread PFAS contamination grew (the Air Force has identified approximately 200 sites in the U.S. where the firefighting foam may have been released), anger spread among residents, who called for the Air Force to pay to fix the damage. The EPA drew ire, too, when Politico reported in May 2018 that it had sought to cover up a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicated safe levels of PFAS could be as low as 12 ppt.