Public water supply issues continue in Widefield, Security area — The Denver Post

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

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment emphasized, in a preliminary health assessment, that there’s no established link between these perflourinated chemicals (PFCs) and the elevated kidney, lung and bladder cancer documented in Security, Widefield and Fountain.

Air Force officials on Tuesday confirmed they are stepping in with $4.3 million to set up a temporary water treatment system to try to reduce exposures to contaminated water. The Air Force also has agreed to accelerate testing at military airfields suspected as a source. They are doing this as a “good neighbor gesture,” officials said, not as an admission of fault.

CDPHE officials recommended that — as a precaution — residents in areas where PFCs levels are above the EPA’s newly established 70 parts per trillion health advisory limit should consider alternative sources of water…

Widefield water department director Brandon Bernard welcomed the Air Force intervention, aimed at deploying granulated carbon treatment technology, to give utilities “breathing room” to explore options for dealing with the PFCs in their water supplies. Most well water in the Widefield aquifer contains PFCs above the EPA limit, utility officials said, and they have joined counterparts in neighboring Security in blending water from wells as much as possible with water piped 40 miles from Pueblo.

Yet Widefield (pop. 18,000) cannot get by without using water from its 11 wells, [Brandon Bernard] said. “When we don’t have to run our wells, we won’t,” he said. “But at times of peak demand, 80 degrees, we are forced to run our wells.”

[…]

The utilities south of Colorado Springs have been scrambling since May 19, when the EPA tightened its previous 400 parts per trillion (ppt) health advisory limit for PFCs. The communities south of Colorado Springs, with a combined population of around 80,000 people, rank among the hardest-hit of 63 areas nationwide where the chemicals, widely used to fight petroleum fires, have been measured at levels the EPA deems dangerous.

These PFCs are among the worst in an expanding multitude of unregulated contaminants that federal scientists are detecting in city water supplies, including hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and anti-depressants. PFCs don’t break down and boiling water won’t get rid of them.

The CDPHE’s preliminary health assessment — “Southeast El Paso County Perfluorinated Chemicals Preliminary Assessment of Cancer” — found that overall cancer cases from 2000 to 2014 were “statistically higher than expected,” based on El Paso County cancer rates.

State health investigators determined that “lung cancers were about 66 percent higher, kidney cancers were about 17 percent higher, and bladder cancers were about 34 percent higher than expected.” However, each of these cancers has been linked to smoking, CDPHE officials said, and tobacco use in the area was relatively high…

Air Force officials stepped in with $4.3 million “as an interim measure,” said Maj. William Russell, spokesman for the 21st Space Wing at the Peterson Air Force Base, which is east of Colorado Springs and north of the contaminated watersheds.

Federal water experts at the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and CDPHE officials and local utility crews have been discussing a temporary fix and heard from the Air Force civil engineers last week. Details were to be considered this week for a system for trying to remove PFCs, Russell said.

Air Force officials nationwide are investigating potential sources of PFC contamination and on Tuesday said they would begin drilling at Peterson Air Force Base in October…

Air Force investigators “are hoping to have that internal draft report by March 2017.”

Meanwhile, base officials are checking aircraft hangar fire suppression systems and investigating past use of PFCs. “They are also replacing their current stock” of an aqueous film-forming foam that may contain PFCs “with a newer EPA-compliant synthetic foam,” according to prepared material released Tuesday.

Peterson Air Force Base crews have used this standard fire-suppressing foam on airfields. For years, they’ve provided firefighting and emergency services to Colorado Springs in exchange for using land leased from the city. They also used the foam from 1970 to 1990 in training exercises at the base involving fire departments from across the region. This did not violate EPA guidelines, officials said.

After about 1990, training was done in a lined basin using water to fight controlled propane-fueled fires, officials said, and the foam then was used only in emergency response…

CDPHE officials had urged the Air Force to accelerate testing and on Tuesday said they are pleased with the response.

“Human studies show increased exposure to PFCs might increase the risk for some health effects,” Salley said. “However, these studies have scientific limitations, and results have not been consistent. The most consistent health effects in human studies are increases in blood cholesterol and uric acid levels, which may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease or high blood pressure.

“Studies have shown more limited findings related to low infant birth weights. It is not yet clear whether PFCs cause cancer, some studies have shown associations with higher level exposures to PFCs and increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer in humans and liver, pancreas and testicular cancer in laboratory animals. There is a large amount of uncertainty on exposure levels and health effects for PFCs.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The Air Force’s announcement Tuesday offered a possible stop-gap solution to a problem that local water district managers say may take years to permanently fix, and it comes as residents there flock to purchase bottled water.

The chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, “possibly” came from Peterson Air Force Base, where firefighters used a foam rich in those chemicals for decades to put out aircraft fires, said Steve Brady, a spokesman for the base’s 21st Space Wing.

Base officials decided to expedite in-depth testing to pinpoint the source of the contaminants after a preliminary report in June suggested the installation as a possible source…

The Air Force expects to install granular activated carbon filters – devices that can filter PFCs from the water, Air Force officials said.

The devices are positioned at or near well heads, filtering water as it is pumped from the ground. Doing so would allow local water districts to once again rely more heavily on the Widefield aquifer – a vital water source for each community.

Still, the development appears unlikely to help residents for much of the rest of this summer, due to the time needed for installation, said Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts.

“This will just help solidify not having a concern next summer and in years to come,” Heald said.

Once installed, local water officials said the project could help keep residents from receiving water laden with PFCs, which have been linked to low birth weights in newborns or certain cancers.

The chemicals aren’t regulated, but the Environmental Protection Agency still sets baseline levels at which the public must be notified about potential health effects.

In May, the EPA lowered its baseline level to 70 parts per trillion, and the EPA said adverse health effects might happen after prolonged use.

All public wells for the Security, Widefield and Fountain water districts tested above the new health advisory levels – leaving local water officials scrambling to minimize exposure.

Fountain shut down all of its wells, and it has only used clean surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir to keep people from drinking contaminated water from the aquifer.

Its reliance on surface water has essentially left the city running at 80-percent capacity – a move its been able to achieve so far, due to mandatory watering restrictions, said Curtis Mitchell, the city’s utilities director.

The situation appears most urgent in Security and Widefield, where water districts still use contaminated wells to meet demand.

Officials for those two water districts have been diluting that contaminated water with surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir, limiting the number of residents exposed.

The Security Water and Sanitation Districts’ tactic could cause water rates to rise in the future, Heald said. It has instituted voluntary watering restrictions to limit water use – tamping down costs and limiting the need for well water.

Meanwhile, the Widefield Water and Sanitation District is on track to run out of clean surface water by sometime in November, said Brandon Bernard, its water department manager. At that point, every resident in the district would receive chemicals in their tap water, because it would have to rely solely on contaminated well water.

For now, the areas most often receiving contaminated tap water are those in the western portions of Security and Widefield.

Infants, pregnant and nursing women and women planning to become pregnant who live in affected areas may want to switch to bottled or treated water, health officials say.

The Air Force is working with the Army Corps of Engineers’ “rapid response group,” which plans to conduct a site visit Wednesday in the Pikes Peak region, said Tom Zink, who is the Corps’ Air Force national program manager for environmental support.

The visit also will focus on private wells, Zink said.

So far, 26 private wells tapped into the Widefield aquifer have tested above the EPA’s new levels, according Danielle Oller, an El Paso County Public Health spokeswoman. That equates to slightly more than half of the wells tested so far.

The aquifer stretches from Stratton Meadows area to Fountain and extends east to the Colorado Springs Airport…

The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Peterson Air Force Base was among 664 military sites across the nation due to be examined for the presence of PFCs. Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy also were on the list.

At Peterson Air Force Base, firefighters used the foam during training exercises from 1970 through about 1990, base officials said in a statement Tuesday.

The training site also was used by fire departments across the region, and it was in compliance with EPA standards at the time, the installation’s statement said.

Since roughly 1990, firefighters have trained in a lined basin using water and fighting flames fueled by a special propane system – not jet fuel. Since then, the foam has only used “in emergency response situations,” the base said.

Base officials said they are replacing their stock of firefighting foam with a new, EPA-compliant variety, and they are double-checking aircraft hangar fire suppression systems for residual chemicals.

Click here to read the release from Petersen Air Force Base via The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck).

From KRDO.com (Chris Loveless):

The Air Force has awarded a $4.3 million rapid response contract as an interim measure to evaluate and treat PFC contaminated water in Security, Widefield and Fountain.

“This proactive measure is being taken as a good neighbor approach while the investigation continues,” said Lt. Col. Chad Gemeinhardt, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron commander.

The money will be used to evaluate affected potable water systems and develop short-term treatment solutions.

Peterson Air Force Base says that the treatment system is expected to be granulated activated carbon filters installed in the affected potable water systems to remove PFCs from drinking water.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will meet with El Paso County Health, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Air Force Civil Engineer Center and water district representatives July 6 to determine the best course of action.

Peterson Air Force Base officials requested and received an expedited date for further investigation as a possible source of the chemicals. The site investigation contractor will arrive at Peterson July 7, to determine best locations to drill monitoring wells. The wells will determine source and extent of the contamination, if any is found.

Drilling will begin in October 2016 and an internal draft report from the contractor is expected in March 2017. Soil samples will also be collected and sampled for PFCs to try and determine the source, according to Air Force Civil Engineer Center officials. The base was originally scheduled for further testing in May 2017, but testing was moved up to October 2016 based on the request.

Peterson provides airport firefighting and emergency services to the city of Colorado Springs in exchange for leased property from the city, and are the first responders for any aircraft or medical emergency on airport property.

Peterson used aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, in joint fire training on Peterson, where fire departments from across the region used the training sites to adequately prepare for emergency response actions to provide public safety. The AFFF was used in a legal, responsible manner in full compliance with Environmental Protection Agency guidelines at the time.

An industry-standard fire suppressant used to extinguish flammable liquid fires such as jet fuel fires, the foam was used from 1970 until about 1990 when Peterson firefighters began training in a lined basin using water to fight a controlled propane-fueled fire, which provides realistic firefighting conditions in an environmentally-safe and controlled manner. Since developing the new lined training area, AFFF has only been used in emergency response situations.

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