#AnimasRiver: #NewMexico urges folks with losses from the #GoldKingMine spill to file claims

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Albuquerque Journal (Ollie Reed Jr.):

“Too many local families are losing money because they lost their crops,” San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel said. “They are afraid to water their crops. There are some wells along here people are afraid to drink from.”

Kirtland Mayor Mark Duncan said some farmers could not sell hay they had raised because potential buyers feared it might have been poisoned by mine-spill contaminated water used to irrigate the crop.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas presided over the news conference, which also included other state officials and elected municipal and county officials in northwest New Mexico. The Journal took part via conference phone call.

Balderas said the state is committed to a long-standing litigation strategy ensuring that the people of New Mexico are fully compensated for the mine spill that dumped 3 million gallons of water laced with heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, into a Colorado creek on Aug. 5, 2015. That creek flowed into the Animas River, which took the tainted water into New Mexico and into the San Juan River near Farmington and through the Navajo Nation.

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

#AnimasRiver: Sunnyside wants out of Navajo Nation lawsuit — The Durango Herald

Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.
Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

From The Durango Herald:

Sunnyside Gold Corp. filed a motion last week to be dismissed from its inclusion in a lawsuit brought by the Navajo Nation for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

“We are hopeful that the case against Sunnyside will be promptly dismissed, as we see no basis for us even being named in this litigation,” spokesman Larry Perino wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.

In August, the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit that included Sunnyside, the Environmental Protection Agency and its contractor, Environmental Restoration LLC, for the mine spill, which sent 3 million gallons of wastewater down the Animas and San Juan rivers.

The lawsuit also named Kinross Gold Corp. (Sunnyside’s parent company), Gold King Mine Corp. (the entity that owns the Gold King mine) as well as Harrison Western Corp., and John Does 1 to 10.

The reasons Sunnyside asked the U.S. Federal Court in New Mexico to dismiss its inclusion are manifold: the company was not involved on the work last summer, the New Mexico court lacks jurisdiction and the bulkheading of the American Tunnel was done at the direction of the state of Colorado.

Sunnyside argued that for those reasons, the state Colorado should have been also named in the lawsuit.

“In essence, the point of Navajo Nation’s lawsuit is to hold Sunnyside liable for following the directives of Colorado and for intending to store water in Colorado,” the motion says. “The fact that an accident at the Gold King Mine – of which Sunnyside had no part – carried water into New Mexico is irrelevant for a personal jurisdiction analysis.”

In July, Sunnyside filed a similar motion to dismiss concerning the state of New Mexico’s lawsuit for impacts to that state regarding the spill.

Questions have been raised whether the bulkheading of Sunnyside’s American Tunnel has caused mine waste to back up and discharge out adjacent mines, namely the Gold King and Red & Bonita.

The EPA has said it will conduct further evaluations this summer to better understand the network of mines in the complicated drainage.

The Navajo Nation has 60-days to respond to the motion to dismiss, though it has asked the courts for an extension of that deadline.

Widefield Aquifer: Local, state and federal pols put pressure on the Air Force

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.
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 (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):

Local, state and federal politicians Monday called for accountability and more investigation into the military’s use of firefighting foam after a Gazette investigation showed the Air Force ignored decades of warnings from its scientists about a toxic chemical in the foam. The chemical is suspected in widespread water contamination.

The investigation, published Sunday, found that the Air Force ran a series of tests dating back to the 1970s that found the foam harmed laboratory animals. The service also ignored warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers and continued to use it for 16 years after a major manufacturer and the EPA agreed to phase it out, citing environmental and health dangers.

“That’s the definition of negligence,” said Colorado Springs Democratic state Rep. Pete Lee, whose district spans Fountain Creek…

“We cannot be in a situation where we are allowing this to continue,” said Fountain Republican state Rep. Lois Landgraf, whose district also spans Fountain Creek…

What accountability could look like is up in the air.

Landgraf said she wants a state inquiry and may call for a hearing at the General Assembly.

“We need to be looking out for our citizens,” Landgraf said. “That’s the No. 1 priority.”

Lee said he wants the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to investigate the Air Force as a likely polluter, saying the agency should “also impose, if appropriate, fines and a sanctions.”

Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said he is focused on working with the Air Force to improve the city’s water supply.

“My hope is they’re in for the long haul,” Ortega said.

Unlike the Security and Widefield water districts, Fountain switched entirely to cleaner surface water last year. Security stopped using the fouled aquifer last month, and Widefield has yet to announce such a move.

Ortega voiced confidence the Air Force would follow through with its promise to spend about $4.3 million helping the impacted communities install well water filters.

“We can’t really go back and change what has happened in the past,” Ortega said. “It’s upsetting, but we’re going to work with what we can.”

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

#AnimasRiver: Motion to dismiss filed in #GoldKingMine spill lawsuit

General view of the Sunnyside Mine, southwestern Colorado photo via the Denver Public Library
General view of the Sunnyside Mine, southwestern Colorado photo via the Denver Public Library

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

A defendant in the Navajo Nation’s Gold King Mine spill lawsuit has filed a motion to dismiss its involvement in the case.

In the motion filed last week, the Sunnyside Gold Corp. claims the company had no involvement in the Aug. 5, 2015, spill that released more than 3 million gallons of toxic-laden wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

On Aug. 16, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye announced the tribe had filed a lawsuit against Sunnyside, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Restoration LLC, Harrison Western Corp., Gold King Mines Corp., Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc. and John Does 1-10.

Sunnyside, which is based in Silverton, Colo., owns and operates several mining properties, according to a company overview listed on the Bloomberg website.

The company states in its motion that claims against it must be dismissed for several reasons, including that the U.S. District Court of New Mexico lacks jurisdiction in the matter. The court lacks jurisdiction because only the alleged injury occurred in New Mexico, and none of the activities related to the mine happened in the state, according to the motion.

“In this case, there is no suggestion that Sunnyside’s activities were ever directed at New Mexico. All of Sunnyside’s conduct and activities, everything it did or did not do relevant to this case, occurred in Colorado. Nothing Sunnyside did was in or aimed at New Mexico,” the motion states.

Sunnyside argues the state of Colorado must be a party to the lawsuit because the mine and associated work was done within the state.

According to the motion, the company claims bulkheads installed at the mine were completed through specific directives issued by the state of Colorado and by a consent decree approved by a Colorado district court judge in May 1996.

Any fault associated with the installation of bulkheads must include Colorado, the motion states.

Another reason the motion asks to dismiss Sunnyside is due to a section of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, which established the Superfund program, that deprives the court’s jurisdiction over the tribe’s abatement claims.

On Sept. 9, the EPA designated the Bonita Peak Mining District, where the Gold King Mine is located, a Superfund site.

Because the area has received the Superfund designation, any abatement activities would be determined by the EPA, and the tribe is not entitled to punitive damages from Sunnyside, according to the motion.

On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

PFCs: Air Force studies dating back decades show danger of foam that contaminated local water — The #Colorado Springs Gazette

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

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

The Air Force ignored decades of warnings from its own researchers in continuing to use a chemical-laden firefighting foam that is a leading cause of contaminated drinking water for at least 6 million Americans, including thousands of people south of Colorado Springs. Multiple studies dating back to the 1970s found health risks from the foam, and even an agreement 16 years ago between the Environmental Protection Agency and the foam’s main manufacturer to stop making the substance did not curtail the Air Force’s usage. Until drinking water tests announced by health officials this year revealed contaminated wells here, the Air Force did almost nothing to publicly acknowledge the danger of the firefighting chemical.

That contamination sent residents across southern El Paso County scrambling to buy bottled water and to test their blood for the toxic chemical, which, when ingested, can remain in the body for decades.

The Gazette’s investigation into the military’s research of perfluorinated compounds, the intensely powerful chemical in the foam, found:

– Studies by the Air Force as far back as 1979 demonstrated the chemical was 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.”

– The EPA called for a phaseout of the chemical 16 years ago and 10 years ago found the chemical in the foam “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

Despite the warnings, the Air Force still uses the chemical in Colorado Springs, with at least 600 gallons of the firefighting chemical at Peterson Air Force Base. While that might not sound like much, it is mixed as a 3 percent solution with water. At that ratio, 600 gallons of chemical would combine with about 20,000 gallons of water to make 80 tons of fire suppressant.

The service plans to phase out the chemical in its firetrucks in coming weeks, but the Air Force still hasn’t determined when it will remove the chemical from firefighting foam systems at Peterson’s hangars.

The urgency of the issue came clearly into focus last week when Peterson Air Force Base announced the release of an additional 150,000 gallons of water polluted with the chemical into the Colorado Springs sewage system and from there into Fountain Creek.

After acknowledging the spill, Peterson officials said they weren’t required by law to notify downstream users of the water in the contaminant’s path.

“At this point, this is a nonregulated substance,” Peterson environmental chief Fred Brooks said…

Air Force Undersecretary Miranda Ballentine highlighted the Air Force’s $24 million effort to deliver clean water to the Pikes Peak region and elsewhere and defended the toxic foam as the “only fire-fighting product that met military specifications used to protect people and property from aviation fuel-based fires.

“The Air Force takes ownership of the possible negative impacts of our fire-fighting mission, and where we are responsible we will do the right thing to protect people and the environment,” she wrote in an email to The Gazette.

But even as the Air Force spends millions of dollars to filter water from the fouled aquifer below Security, Widefield and Fountain, the problem could last for generations…

EPA-mandated testing found at least 6 million Americans are dealing with water contaminated by the firefighting chemical and similar compounds – with many of them drinking from wells that likely were fouled by the Air Force, other military services or manufacturing sites.

Studies show that such chemicals can slowly kill. They can cause immune system and liver damage and have been linked to cancers, especially of the kidneys and testicles. Fetal development problems and low birth weight are a concern. And at a minimum, the firefighting foam can cause high cholesterol, a precursor to heart disease.

Exactly how the foam’s chemical harms people remains unclear, though scientists have strong theories. Researchers generally agree the chemical doesn’t directly damage human genetic material. Rather, it has largely been shown to suppress the immune system – allowing disease and ailments to surface over time.

Each person’s risk is based on myriad factors, including one’s genetic makeup, lifestyle, gender and the length of exposure to the chemical.

“It just tells us that it’s not possible under our current testing guidelines to fully capture every potential toxicological effect that could occur from exposure to a synthetic compound,” said Jamie DeWitt, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of East Carolina’s Brody School of Medicine.

“I think it’s important that the people who are getting exposed understand that these exposure levels are based on probabilities,” DeWitt said. “So exposure does not equal toxicity – it equals probability of toxicity at a sustained exposure.”


While the Air Force has offered $4.3 million to help filter water in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas, it claims that serious concerns first arose in 2009 – 30 years after its first known studies into the toxic effects of the chemical and 16 years after the EPA and the chemical’s largest manufacturer, 3M, issued a strong warning. By that time, such man-made chemicals had been found on every continent.

“3M data supplied to EPA indicated that these chemicals are very persistent in the environment, have a strong tendency to accumulate in human and animal tissues and could potentially pose a risk to human health and the environment over the long term,” the EPA said in a 2000 news release.

The EPA has yet to ban the chemical. The Air Force says it will remain in use through the end of the year. The military and the Department of Veterans Affairs said they have no plans to study the effects of the firefighting chemical on airmen and other troops who may have used it…

Studies show the first laboratory rats died from exposure to a perfluorinated compound in the 1960s.

More studies have found rats in the experiments had pups with low birth weights. Some rats suffered liver and kidney damage. Some contracted cancers.

According to Air Force documents obtained by The Gazette, a study by the service’s research laboratory in 1979 linked the chemical to damaged “thymus, bone marrow, stomach, mesentery, liver, and testes in the male rats.”

The service ordered a study published in 1981 that found the chemical could cause damage to female rats and their offspring, including low birth weight.

In the second study, pregnant female lab rats died when exposed to high doses of the chemical. The researchers wrote that the 1979 study confirmed exposure danger for male airmen, “but did not depict the potential hazard in Air Force women,” necessitating the follow-up.

That study also says the Air Force was a leader in studying the toxicity of firefighting foam, with the only literature on the subject coming from the service’s laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

More Air Force studies came after that, with several in the 1980s and 1990s.

Despite alarming findings, the service kept using it, leading it to seep into drinking water in Colorado and around the globe.

In response to Gazette questions about its studies, an Air Force spokeswoman questioned the validity of the service’s own scientific work in the 1981 study of the foam.

“We were able to do an initial review of the report you provided and determined that specific chemical was never used in our Aviation Fire Fighting Foam and was only used for the purpose of that study,” spokeswoman Laura M. McAndrews wrote.

The study, though, says the chemical tested was a perfluorinated acid that Air Force scientists called “structurally related to a surfactant agent used in fire retardant foams by the Air Force.”


A different view

The Air Force’s view of the chemical’s history is different.

The Air Force’s top expert on the toxic chemical said the military didn’t really understand the danger of such chemicals, also known as PFCs, until 2009.

“So in 2009, taking this through 2009, EPA then issued a provisional health advisory for PFCs. And I think this is a real key point here is that’s when they issued that provisional health advisory,” explained Daniel Medina, a civilian at the Air Force’s Civil Engineer Center in San Antonio.

While the Air Force studied the firefighting foam’s toxicity, Medina said, the service would not change its chemical policies without direction from the EPA.

“Right, so again that’s where we’d look at the regulations that EPA and in this case the health advisories put out there to look to defer to that,” he said.

The toxic chemical in the firefighting foam and its sister chemical, a key ingredient in Teflon, were born out of the chemistry revolution after World War II.

The firefighting foam is a Vietnam-era military invention patented by the Navy’s Naval Research Laboratory as an alternative for battling aircraft fires aboard carriers.

The foam is credited with saving thousands of lives from shipboard and fuel fires. It seems almost miraculous for stopping burning fuel, forming a Jello- like barrier between the flames and the fuel that quickly stops the blaze.

“What it does is it helps you against flammable liquid fires,” explained the Air Force’s fire chief, James E. Podolske Jr…

Once the foam gets into the environment, though, it’s not going away.

Like fuel, the chemical’s backbone is a long string of carbon atoms – eight of them. Attached to those carbons is fluoride, forming a remarkably stable concoction using one of the strongest chemical bonds known to science. Perfluorinated compounds in the environment could outlast the sun before breaking down in a time frame normally precise scientists like Colorado School of Mines chemist Christopher Higgins can only describe as “geologic.”

Concerns about the firefighting foam were serious enough that a 1991 environmental assessment of Fort Carson by the Army Corps of Engineers concluded, “Firefighting operations that use (the foam) must be replaced with nonhazardous substitutes.”

In June, Gardner sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James asking the Air Force to publicly release all information it possessed on contamination in the Pikes Peak region. The senator, though, hadn’t been made aware of the repeated Air Force studies into the health risks of the foam.

“We have to have the measures taken to assure public safety,” Gardner told The Gazette. “We need the commitment of the Air Force to do a full reckoning of the documents you have cited.

“This isn’t something that can be swept under the rug,” Gardner said. “It has to be met with the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Routine use of foam for years

Even as the Air Force studied the risks of its firefighting foam, firefighters at Peterson Air Force Base sprayed the foam over and over onto the ground as practice for putting out airplane fires.

Using two unlined pits, firefighters dumped pools of jet fuel on the ground and lit it – simulating the perils of an airplane crash. The flames were extinguished by coating the pond in foam, said Kjonaas, the former base fire chief.

The practice at those pits continued until the early 1990s, when the Air Force completed a lined pit for those exercises, sending the remnants into the base’s sewer system. Scientists say a sewer system, though, is unlikely to remove the toxic firefighting chemical from water.

The foam was used routinely until 1999, when a propane-and-water system was installed.

The exact number of times the training was conducted at Peterson has not been released. Kjonaas said training was routine at Peterson during his time as chief, which ended in 2007, with foam being used as often as quarterly.

Until last year, the Air Force also put a small amount of foam on the ground for a daily check to make sure the foam system on fire trucks worked properly, said Podolske, the Air Force’s top firefighter.

“Spray testing at Fire Station No. 1 is done on the concrete ramp during good weather and at the volleyball court during inclement weather,” a report on contamination at Peterson says.

That daily testing has stopped.

“Because of the environmental concerns and the health hazard concerns right now while we were working this, we put out a cease and desist,” Podolske said.

One of the largest known local uses of the foam in recent years came on Dec. 23, 2010, when a single-engine plane crashed just north of a Peterson runway, killing the pilot and his passenger. A report on contamination at Peterson says “at least 100 gallons” of firefighting foam was sprayed to extinguish the wreckage…

Asked what he would do to clean up the new release, Peterson’s Brooks said there was little he could do because the chemical had left his base.

Pattern of contamination found

Industry has found plenty of uses for the same sturdy chemical in firefighting foam as well as similarly structured compounds. Most commonly, they’ve been used to treat carpets as a stain fighter. They were also used in nonstick cookware and at one time were used in food wrappers.

Those manufacturers harbored concerns about such chemicals decades ago.

DuPont issued an internal memo raising health concerns in the early 1960s, according to a Harvard University report. A study in the 1970s on the chemical’s effects on monkeys’ immune systems went unpublished, though other studies in the 1980s and 1990s deepened health concerns, the Harvard report said.

But the firefighting foam, so commonly sprayed on the ground in large quantities, is “likely the most important way in which we have contaminated water supplies around the globe with fluorochemicals,” said Higgins, the School of Mines chemist.

A recent study by Higgins and other researchers found that one of the greatest predictors of contaminated water systems in the U.S. is their proximity to a military firefighting training area that used the foam, along with manufacturing sites and wastewater treatment plants.

The Air Force is studying an estimated 2,800 fire training areas and other places the foam was sprayed at present and past installations around the world. That includes a half-dozen sites at Peterson Air Force Base and the Colorado Springs Airport.

Results of the Colorado Springs study are not due until March.

Near Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Wash., researchers found how the firefighting foam chemical is passed through the ecosystem, with each species accumulating more of the toxin as it moves up the food chain.

The study, by the Washington State Department of Ecology, focused on ospreys, the predatory birds that rule lakes and rivers around the Spokane base.

“The osprey come back in the spring, and they just eat a ton of fish,” said Callie Mathieu, a research coordinator for the agency.

The fish swim in Medical Lake, near the base, where a sewage outflow has pumped the firefighting chemical. Ospreys pick up more of the chemical with each fish they consume.

“When they lay their eggs a month later, they pass on that contaminate burden to their eggs,” Mathieu said.

The concept is the same for humans. When the EPA issued its latest advisory in May, Colorado health officials said women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or bottle-feeding infants may want to avoid their water. That’s largely because infants are the most susceptible to the dangers such chemicals pose. The threat includes miscarriage and low birth weight, a key factor in infant mortality.

That EPA advisory warned that water could be harmful if such chemicals surpassed more than 70 parts per trillion – significantly lower than an advisory issued in 2009. Speaking again to the power of the foam, the 3 percent chemical with 97 percent water solution used to fight fires is 300,000 parts per trillion. A tablespoon of the chemical in 20 Olympic-sized pools would easily exceed the EPA threshold.

Contamination in wells in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas ranged from just a couple of parts per trillion to 2,000 parts per trillion, nearly 30 times the EPA’s advisory level, tests this year showed. The average reading of 108 groundwater test sites was 164 parts per trillion, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, more than two times the EPA’s health advisory level. The median for those groundwater tests was about 115 parts per trillion.

Philippe Grandjean, who teaches at Harvard and the University of Southern Denmark, isn’t satisfied with current limits. He wants the EPA to further limit exposure to an infinitesimal level – 1 part per trillion, because such chemicals stay in the body for years.

“These compounds are much more toxic than we thought,” Grandjean said.

‘A lot of unanswered questions’

The military has yet to face any lawsuits stemming from its use of the chemical in Colorado. For the most part, federal agencies are immune from liability.

Some local politicians have praised the military for its actions to clean Pikes Peak region drinking water while refusing to comment on how the water got contaminated.

“The Air Force is going above and beyond in their willingness to be a good community partner and neighbor with their multi-million dollar response commitment to this particular issue,” Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. “The money and time they are investing will go a long way toward addressing the needs of the citizens of our region.”

Several firefighting foam manufacturers and other companies making perfluorinated compounds have been sued.

Manufacturers of certain perfluorinated compounds have faced lawsuits since at least the late 1990s, and a landmark settlement in one case led to Dr. Brooks’ research project that collected blood samples from 69,000 people in the mid-Ohio Valley, a region east of Cincinnati centered on Parkersburg, W.Va.

Brooks said the study revealed many health problems, especially high cholesterol stemming from such chemicals. Worse, he said, the health impacts can last a lifetime because the human body can’t get rid of them.

Two federal lawsuits seeking class-action status for Security, Widefield and Fountain residents have been filed against 3M and several other companies that made the foam and supplied it to Peterson Air Force Base. They seek money for local medical studies and damages.

A spokesman for the law firm representing 3M, which phased out production of the chemical in 2002, said last month that the company will “vigorously” defend itself against the lawsuits, just as it has in the past.

The chemical that 3M included in its foam is similar – though slightly different – from what DuPont made. The EPA, however, lumped them together in its May advisory, citing similarities and health concerns about each.

A resolution to the lawsuits might take years.

For now, the people receiving contaminated water in their kitchen taps have been left with the tab…

Combined, Security, Widefield and Fountain water officials have spent millions of dollars purchasing additional, cleaner water from other agencies or to widen their existing pipes and install new ones that bring in contaminant-free water from the Pueblo Reservoir or both.

Permanently disconnecting from the Widefield aquifer is infeasible, water district leaders say, because too little water exists elsewhere to meet demand without skyrocketing costs. As a result, the water district might build new treatment plants to filter the chemicals from their well water.

Those projects, however, typically cost millions of dollars and take years to complete…

But long after the Air Force follows through with its plan to destroy its remaining stocks of firefighting foam, a toxic legacy will remain for those who drank water from contaminated wells, Dr. Brooks said.

“If you are 60 years old, you can’t live long enough to get down to a level that it is not going to bother you.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Timeline: History of contamination

1947: Perfluorinated compounds are produced at a 3M plant in Cottage Grove, Minn.

1962: DuPont issues an internal memo raising health concerns.

1967: The Naval Research Laboratory patents Aqueous Film-Forming Foam to fight shipboard fires. “This firefighting foam is now used on all U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and by major airports, refineries, and other areas where potentially catastrophic fuel fires can occur,” the lab says on its website.

About 1970: The Navy’s foam is adopted by the Air Force for airfield use, replacing earlier foams that were less effective but nontoxic.

1979: An Air Force study using perfluorinated chemicals similar to those in firefighting foam finds it damaged “thymus, bone marrow, stomach, mesentery, liver, and testes in the male rats.”

1980: A study finds high concentrations of fluorochemicals in the blood of plant workers at a manufacturing plant, though researchers found no attributable health effects.

1981: Another Air Force study finds the chemical in the firefighting foam is harmful to female rats. The Air Force says the study was needed to show “the potential hazard in Air Force women.”

1983: An Air Force study on the effects of firefighting foam chemicals on mouse tissue found they “caused impairment of clone-forming (cell replication) ability after treatment with concentrations that were non-toxic in suspension.”

1985: An Air Force study finds that perfluorinated compounds could be harmful to cellular growth. “This would imply that these perfluorinated acids are producing toxicity through a membrane interaction.”

1991: The Army Corps of Engineers tells Fort Carson to quit using the firefighting foam at the post, saying it “must be replaced with nonhazardous substitutes.”

1993: An Air Force study finds that rats exposed to firefighting foam chemicals suffer liver effects.

1997: An Army study tells soldiers to treat the firefighting foam as hazardous waste. “In large volumes, AFFF foam can be harmful to the environment. AFFF solution should not be allowed to flow untreated into the ecosystem, or into the sewage systems in large quantities.”

1997: A Navy study attempts to break down the toxic chemicals of firefighting foam using bacteria. The experiment fails.

2000: The EPA and manufacturer 3M issue joint statement warning of the chemicals’ dangers.

2002: 3M finishes phasing out its production of perfluorinated compounds.

2005: A landmark settlement is reached between DuPont and residents in the mid-Ohio Valley over water contamination near a manufacturing plant. It established the C8 Project that tested the blood of 69,000 people and led researchers to say the chemicals are associated with six health conditions: kidney and testicular cancers, diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

2005-06: An EPA draft assessment finds a “suggestive” link to cancer, and a follow-up review finds one such chemical is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

2006: A study finds levels of one type of perfluorinated compound “greatly exceeded general population medians,” largely due to drinking water contamination from a nearby chemical manufacturing plant.

2006: The eight leading manufacturers of perfluorinated compounds commit to ending production of the chemicals by 2015 as part of an EPA stewardship program.

2007: The Air Force says in 2007 it first learned from the EPA that firefighting foam might be dangerous. The service doesn’t take action until a stronger warning in 2009.

2009: The EPA issues its first provisional health advisories about perfluorinated compounds that say “epidemiological studies of exposure to (the chemicals) and adverse health outcomes in humans are inconclusive at present.”

2011: An Army study finds the chemical in firefighting foam causes immune system damage. “However, autism risk cannot be determined from these data alone.”

2012: A study shows perfluorinated compounds are associated with reduced vaccine effectiveness among children ages 5 and 7.

2013: Water districts – largely those serving 10,000 customers or more – begin an EPA-led effort to test their water for perfluorinated compounds through 2015.

2014: Reduced vaccine effectiveness is found in the mid-Ohio Valley population.

2015: A statement authored by 14 leading scientists on perfluorinated compounds, called The Madrid Statement, warns of the dangers these chemicals pose.

May 2016: The EPA tightens its guidance regarding PFCs, issuing a health advisory for water containing 70 parts per trillion or more of perfluorinated compounds.

August: A study is published that finds firefighting sites that used the chemical-laden foam were one of the greatest predictors of nearby water contamination.

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

Fountain Creek: 150 KGAL of PFC-laden water released into #Colorado Springs sewer system by Peterson AFB

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.
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 Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The spill, which Air Force officials said they’re investigating, happened as the Air Force increasingly faces scrutiny as a source of groundwater contamination nationwide.

The surge of waste containing elevated perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — used at military airfields to douse fuel fires and linked by federal authorities to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, low birth weights and other health problems — flowed through a Colorado Springs Utilities wastewater treatment plant before crews could try to block it. Then it trickled into Fountain Creek.

“Even if we would have been able to head it off at the plant, we’re not equipped. I don’t know of any wastewater plants in the country equipped to remove PFCs,” utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. “We would not have been able to remove that chemical before it was discharged back into the environment from our effluent.”

Fountain Creek flows south toward Pueblo and into the Arkansas River.

Pueblo Board of Water Works spokesman Paul Fanning said Pueblo didn’t hear about the spill until reporters made inquiries Tuesday.

“We don’t use any groundwater or surface water from Fountain Creek. We use water from the Arkansas River taken upstream from where Fountain Creek flows in,” Fanning said. “But it is not a good thing to have those contaminants anywhere in our water. There are some reported health effects. It is in our interest to protect our public.”


The PFC-laced waste was held in a tank at a firefighter training area on the base, located at the southeastern edge of Colorado Springs. PFCs are a component in the aqueous film-forming foam used to extinguish fuel fires.

Air Force officials said in the statement that they discovered the spill Oct. 12 during an inspection. They notified Colorado Springs Utilities the next day. The tank was part of a system used to recirculate water to a firefighter training area…

In Colorado, government well test data show PFCs have contaminated groundwater throughout the Fountain Creek watershed, nearly as far south as Pueblo, at levels up to 20 times higher than that EPA health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.

Public-water authorities in Fountain, Security and Widefield have scrambled to provide enough alternative water. Security has been purchasing millions of gallons of diverted Arkansas River water from Colorado Springs, installing new pipelines and minimizing pumping from contaminated municipal wells. Since Sept. 9, Security has not pumped any water from wells, water and sanitation district manager Roy Heald said. “This spill does not affect us immediately,” Heald said. “Our only concern would be the long-term effect on Fountain Creek and the Widefield Aquifer.”

Some parents south of Colorado Springs began paying for bottled water — to be safe. A contractor delivers emergency bottled water to at least 77 households.

The Air Force has contributed $4.3 million to help communities deal with the contamination.

Colorado Springs utilities crews will work with the military “to keep PFCs out of our system. That is the goal,” Berry said. “How do we protect our customers and our system from this chemical? That is the focus. It goes beyond the Air Force. It is any industrial process that may use that chemical.”

El Paso County Public Health “takes this discharge seriously and will coordinate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to collect water samples along Fountain Creek, if warranted,” spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.

CDPHE has been informed, agency spokesman Mark Salley said, adding: “It is under investigation by the Air Force, and the department is waiting for information. … The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing PFC contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide.”

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

The release last week posed no threat to Colorado Springs drinking water.

The base said the release was discovered Oct. 12. The cause hasn’t been determined, but Fred Brooks, Peterson’s environmental chief, said the holding tank was designed to be difficult to discharge.

“It’s not a direct connection,” Brooks said. “This tank would have to have numerous valves switched to actually discharge.”

Was it intentional?

“That’s a possibility,” Brooks said…

An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of the discharge, said Col. Doug Schiess, who commands Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, in the statement.

Colorado Springs Utilities said the chemical-laden water passed through the utility’s Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant and was released into Fountain Creek. The plant does not have the capacity to remove the chemical.

“There was no risk to the drinking water,” said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman. “This did not impact the drinking water, the finished water system, in any way. It went directly into the wastewater system.”

While Peterson notified Colorado Springs, base officials didn’t warn others downstream. Brooks said the base isn’t required to issue a wider notification, noting that the chemical is “unregulated” – a term used for substances that haven’t drawn enforceable drinking water standards…

Peterson had scheduled a public firefighting demonstration on Oct. 12, the day the discharge was discovered. The fire training exercise was canceled, with a spokesman at the base blaming the delay on a “bad valve”

Brooks, the base environmental officer, said two mechanical valves and an electric one must be switched to allow water to flow out of the tank, which held the outflow from fire training exercises dating back as far as 2013.

He said the water wasn’t tested for levels of the firefighting chemical.

A second tank on the base holding fire training residue wasn’t discharged.

The Air Force banned use of the foam outside fire emergencies last year and last month announced a plan to replace the product at all of its bases around the globe. Brooks said the foam at Peterson will be replaced in about two weeks.

The water contamination in Security, Widefield and Fountain has drawn a pair of lawsuits against the manufacturers of the firefighting foam alleging they sold it to the Air Force despite its toxic risks.

Although downstream, no drinking water supplied to Pueblo residents by the Pueblo Board of Water Works comes from Fountain Creek, said Paul Fanning, the agency’s spokesman. The Pueblo Reservoir does not pull from Fountain Creek.

The Widefield Water and Sanitation District is the only water system immediately downstream of the treatment plant now using the Widefield Aquifer, which leaches water from Fountain Creek, where the chemicals flowed.

Widefield officials have previously said they plan to shut off their wells by sometime in October.

Other communities have shut off their wells to the tainted aquifer.

All the water flowing to homes supplied by the Security and Fountain water systems now comes from the Pueblo Reservoir – meaning that last week’s spill should not affect those communities.

“The long-term effects would be concerning,” said Roy Heald, Security water district’s general manager. “But short-term immediate effects – there wouldn’t be any for us.”

The EPA said it wasn’t involved with the spill.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gave the Air Force a vote of confidence despite the chemical discharge.

“The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing (perfluorinated compound) contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide,” the state agency said.

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

@EPA Awarding $1.3 Million to Revitalize America’s Urban Waters and Surrounding Communities

E.coli Bacterium
E.coli Bacterium

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Tricia Lynn):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is awarding $1.3 million to 22 organizations in 18 states to help protect and restore urban waters and to support community revitalization and other local priorities.

“Often underserved communities in our nation’s cities face disproportionate impacts from pollution, and too often they lack the resources to do something about it,” said Joel Beauvais, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. “EPA provides support to empower these communities to improve the quality of their waterways and to help reconnect people and businesses with the water they depend on.”

Many urban waterways have been polluted for years by sewage, runoff from city streets, and contamination from abandoned industrial facilities. Healthy and accessible urban waters can enhance economic, educational, recreational, and social opportunities in surrounding communities.

This year’s Urban Waters grantees will inform and engage residents in stormwater management and pursue community-based plans to address pollution in waterways. To accomplish these goals, many projects will address trash in waterways; test rivers, streams and lakes for pollutants; and prepare the next generation of environmental stewards for careers in the green economy. The 22 organizations receiving EPA grant funding are as follows:

Mystic River Watershed Association, Massachusetts ($60,000) will partner with towns and cities near Boston to create a multimedia education program to increase awareness of stormwater pollution for a regional coalition of municipalities.

Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Massachusetts ($60,000) will develop a green infrastructure plan for Day Brook in Holyoke to reduce stormwater flow into the brook and resulting combined sewer overflow discharges into the Connecticut River.

NY/NJ Baykeeper, New Jersey ($48,150) will expand its plastic pollution reduction project by identifying, reducing, and preventing plastic transported via stormwater from reaching the lower Passaic River watershed and Newark Bay complex.

Sarah Lawrence College, New York ($60,000) will work with community scientists to investigate the severity and local sources of water pollution while increasing community engagement and stewardship in four underserved urban watersheds in the Lower Hudson River region.

Anacostia Watershed Society Inc., Maryland ($50,000) will educate and train middle-school students from low-income communities in Washington, DC on the problems associated with stormwater runoff and mitigation strategies through a variety of activities.

Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia ($59,773) will develop a community greening and green infrastructure plan for its two urban campuses and the Richmond Arts District.

The Conservation Fund, Georgia ($60,000) will expand community engagement in planning for two future green infrastructure projects aimed at reducing stormwater runoff located in the headwaters of Proctor Creek in Atlanta.

University of Tennessee, Tennessee ($59,995) will, through a community-driven effort, collect nutrient data across the Baker Creek watershed, which will help the City of Knoxville and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation develop a watershed restoration strategy.

Openlands, Illinois ($60,000) will, in partnership with the Healthy Schools Campaign, manage the Space to Grow program which transforms schoolyards into vibrant places that benefit students, communities, and the environment.

The University of Toledo, Ohio ($59,988) will, in collaboration with North Toledo community members, Vistula Management, United North, and the Toledo-Lucas County Sustainability Commission, develop a plan to incorporate green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) at low income, multi-family housing sites in Toledo, Ohio.

Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Lousiana ($60,000) will partner with several New Orleans-based underserved schools to assess neighborhood stormwater runoff. The data from which will be used to improve local pollution mitigation practices.

Amigos Bravos, New Mexico ($55,508) will work with an underserved community located in Alburquerque’s South Valley to address chronic flooding due to poor stormwater management.

Saint Louis University, Missouri ($58,793) will evaluate whether the use of brine pretreatment as an alternative to chloride used as road salt will help reduce local chloride water pollution.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska ($59,935) will improve stormwater and green infrastructure training and assistance for Omaha’s workforce, students, and residents.

City and County of Denver, Colorado ($60,000) will develop the Heron Pond Regional Open Space Master Plan to consolidate and restore into open space approximately 80 acres of land surrounding Heron Pond, with an ultimate goal of reducing urban runoff pollution, improving wildlife habitat, and creating recreation opportunities for the highly urbanized, industrial, and underserved Globeville neighborhood.

Groundwork Denver Inc., Colorado ($60,000) will work with local high school students from Sheridan, Colorado, an underserved community located at the mouth of Bear Creek, and Metropolitan State University, to determine the sources of E. coli feeding into the creek.

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, South Dakota ($58,996) will develop and promote a stormwater and green infrastructure educational program for K-12 and college students and the broader community, culminating in a community design charrette for the planning of low-impact development and green infrastructure practices for the proposed Rural America Initiatives development.

Arizona State University, Arizona ($58,227) will work with students and Girl Scouts Troops to monitor water quality in local waterways and recreational fisheries to develop recommendations for community- based solutions.

Constitutional Rights Foundation, California ($59,673) will, in partnership with Los Angeles Waterkeeper and UCLA, expand its teaching curriculum for local undeserved high school students on community stormwater assessments to include enhanced STEM education, and will conduct local civic-minded community environmental projects.

Heal the Bay, California ($59,998) will partner with Los Angeles Trade Technical College and local high schools to monitor bacterial water pollution in the Los Angeles River, which will be used to make recommendations to local government agencies and watershed stakeholders for improving water quality and protecting public health.

Lummi Indian Business Council, Washington ($56,433) will teach third- through fifth-grade students at the Lummi National Schools about how a watershed works, water quality parameters, sources of impairments, and how this impacts the salmon and shellfish that the Lummi Nation depends on for subsistence, economic, and cultural needs.

The Lands Council, Washington ($45,250) will offer green job training and career pathways through the Green Sleeves Program at the Geiger Correctional Center in Spokane and will work with local high school teachers to develop and teach a year-long environmental science curriculum focusing on stormwater pollution and low-impact remediation.

The Urban Waters Small Grants are competed and awarded every two years. Since its inception in 2012, the program has awarded approximately $6.6 million in Urban Waters Small Grants to 114 organizations across the country and Puerto Rico, with individual award amounts of up to $60,000.

To learn more about the funded projects, visit https://www.epa.gov/urbanwaters/urban-waters-small-grants

Information on EPA’s Urban Waters program: https://www.epa.gov/urbanwaters