Wells tested in Widefield, Security and Fountain areas exceed EPA advisory limits for damaging chemicals — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Widefield aquifer map via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer map via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The majority of private wells tested in the Widefield, Security and Fountain area have tested above new levels announced Thursday for chemicals that may cause low birth weight in children or certain types of cancer.

Fourteen of the 17 wells tested so far were above the newly announced levels – leading health officials to say some people who rely on those wells may want to switch to bottled or treated water. Those people include infants, nursing or pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant.

In addition, health officials are urging people using private wells that draw from the Widefield aquifer to contact El Paso County Public Health and get their water tested for free.

In the meantime, people using those wells – especially those at highest risk – also may want to use other sources of water, said Larry Wolk, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s executive director and chief medical officer.

“It’s really more out of caution and trying to be as conservative as possible to provide the advisory and pass on the information,” Wolk said.

The developments mark the latest in a growing concern over the presence of perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, in groundwater across the nation.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate the chemicals, but they are on a list of potential pollutants that might be regulated in the future.

On Thursday, the EPA issued new health advisory levels for the human-made chemicals, which have been used for decades in firefighting foams, furniture fabrics, food wrappers and in chemicals used to protect carpets and clothing.

The EPA’s previous alert level was 200 parts per trillion. But current research – while limited – suggests the chemicals may cause low infant birth weight.

As a result, the EPA lowered its advisory level Thursday to 70 parts per trillion.

Low birth weight has been linked to a higher risk of physical or developmental health issues later in life.

Links also may exist between PFCs and several conditions, including kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage and thyroid issues, the EPA said.

Determining the exact risk in humans is difficult, because research has only focused on animals so far, Wolk said. Still, many companies that once used PFCs have stopped them.

The new advisory is a so-called lifetime advisory – meaning that the chemical may be harmful after repeated use over a long period.

The 14 wells that tested above the new health advisory level did not exceed the old level, said Tom Gonzales, El Paso County Public Health’s deputy director.

State health officials say that historical data does not show a “significant difference” in low birth weight between areas where PFCs have been detected and the rest of El Paso County. However, their analysis is ongoing.

The source of the contaminants remains unclear, Gonzales said.

Several other water sources near the aquifer – such as surface water – as well other wells tapped into it are being analyzed to pinpoint its source. The tests usually take about three weeks to process.

The county Health Department plans to continue testing water in the area through March – all to gain a better idea of where the PFCs originated.

The aquifer stretches from Stratton Meadows area to Fountain and extends east to the Colorado Springs Airport. It’s the only one in Colorado where PFCs have been detected, Wolk said.

The chemicals initially reached or exceeded the EPA’s old health advisory levels in three public wells in Security and one public well in Widefield.

That water, however, has been diluted with water pumped into the area from the Pueblo Reservoir.

Local health officials’ main concern has been private wells that draw directly from the aquifer, of which there are an estimated 87.

For those people, Gonzales urged water quality tests. They are available by calling El Paso County Public Health at 575-8602.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

El Paso County health officials are aware of more people using water contaminated with chemicals that may cause low infant birth weight.

Security Mobile Home Park, which has about 150 residents, and the Fountain Valley Shopping Center appear, to be drawing from Widefield aquifer wells with unhealthy levels of perfluorinated compounds, said Tom Gonzales, El Paso County Public Health’s deputy director, during a Board of Health meeting Wednesday.

Further, residents on the western end of Security and Widefield may be using water with unhealthy levels of the compounds, water district managers said. That is because efforts to dilute it do not appear to work well enough…

It’s a lifetime advisory – meaning adverse health effects might happen after prolonged use over years. Those effects include low infant birth weights and kidney and testicular cancer.

The Widefield aquifer, which stretches along Interstate 25 from the Stratton Meadows area to Fountain and east to the Colorado Springs Airport, appears to be the only aquifer in Colorado contaminated by PFCs at levels triggering health alerts. The contaminants’ source remains unknown.

Different types of wells pull from the aquifer.

Concerns first centered on public wells, which help supply water to thousands of people in the area via a few water districts. Some of those wells tested positive for elevated levels of PFCs during initial tests by the EPA. In those cases water from the Pueblo Reservoir was used to dilute the chemicals.

However, in a few areas, those efforts may not be working well enough, officials with the Widefield Water and Sanitation District and Security Water and Sanitation Districts said.

Each district serves roughly 18,000 or 19,000 residents. Water serving some of those people – especially those on the western end of each district – may be using water with too many PFCs. That is based on tests performed prior to the middle of last week, and further testing is ongoing.

In Security, the issue may be of particular concern on peak water usage days, when the district must use a higher ratio of well water to meet demand, said Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts.

As a result, the Security water district will institute voluntary watering restrictions from June 1 to Oct. 1 to limit water usage, he said. Those restrictions are three days a week, based on address. [ed. emphasis mine]

El Paso County Public Health officials also have been testing private wells, which are often only used by one household and tap directly into the aquifer, meaning they do not include water from other sources.

The vast majority of the roughly 15 to 20 private wells tested have registered levels above the new EPA advisory level, and more testing is ongoing.

Gonzales once again urged people drawing from private wells to contact the health department for free tests, to determine the PFC levels of their drinking water.

In the meantime, he said the health department is working on ways to remove the chemicals from the water.

“That is our number one priority right now,” Gonzales said.

From the Associated Press via the The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Federal regulators announced tighter guidelines [May 19, 2016] for human exposure to an industrial chemical used for decades in such consumer products as non-stick pans, stain-resistant carpets and microwave popcorn bags.

The cancer-causing chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA, has been found in the tap water of dozens of factory towns near industrial sites where it was manufactured. DuPont, 3M and other U.S. chemical companies voluntarily phased out the use of PFOA in recent years.

Also at issue is the related chemical perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, used in firefighting foam.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued the stricter guidelines for the chemicals after years of pressure from public health experts and advocacy groups. The agency said the new limits were prompted by recent scientific studies linking PFOA and PFOS to testicular and kidney cancers, as well as birth defects and liver damage.

“EPA will continue sharing the latest science and information so that state and local officials can make informed decisions and take actions to protect public health,” said Joel Beauvais, the EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Water. “This is an important part of our broader effort to support states and public water systems as we work together to strengthen the safety of America’s drinking water.”

Trace amounts of PFOA and PFOS can be detected in the blood of almost every American as the result of exposure through food and consumer products. But of specific concern to regulators is the risk posed to residents in the relatively small number of communities where higher levels of PFOA and PFOS have been found in public drinking water.

EPA now says long-term exposure to either chemical at concentrations above 70 parts per trillion could have adverse health impacts. That’s significantly lower than the agency’s prior advisory level based on short-term exposure of 400 parts per trillion.

Under the EPA’s new guidance, water systems where concentrations of PFOA or PFOS are found above 70 parts per trillion are advised to promptly notify local residents and consult with their state drinking water agencies.

EPA said public notification is especially important for pregnant or nursing women because of the impact the chemicals can have on the development of fetuses and infants who are breastfed or drinking formula made with tap water.

In 2013, EPA ordered about 4,800 public water systems nationwide to test for PFOA. More than 100 cities and towns in 29 states had trace amounts of PFOA, but none exceeded 400 parts per trillion.

However, the new lower limit means that a handful of those communities will now qualify as having water with contamination levels above the advised threshold.

EPA’s national survey also did not include many smaller communities located near sites where the chemicals were used for decades.

Hoosick Falls, New York, is located near a plastics plant and where the water supply system serves just 4,500 people, wasn’t included in the testing. PFOA levels of 600 part per trillion were discovered in village wells in 2014 because residents demanded testing amid concerns about what they perceived as a high cancer rates.

More recently, testing turned up PFOA concentrations of about 100 parts per trillion in the drinking water of nearby Petersburgh, New York, and North Bennington, Vermont, which also had plastics plants. A second round of water testing in North Bennington recently yielded readings of up to 2,730 parts per trillion — nearly 40 times the EPA’s new advisory limit.

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