PEER Obtains Evidence of “Forever Chemicals” at Air Force Academy

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For Immediate Release: Thursday, March 12, 2020
Contact: Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798; Kevin Bell (202) 265-7337

Washing Your Hands Can’t Stop PFAS in Water

Denver, CO — Today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released test results from private wells adjacent to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs which suggest contamination has spread from the Academy to private wells downstream. The tests show 6 carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting “forever chemicals,” some at dangerously elevated levels. The chemicals, known collectively as PFAS, accumulate in the body and cause health problems including cancer. The military’s heavy use of PFAS chemicals for firefighting and training has contaminated water at hundreds of US bases.

While the documents obtained by PEER reveal that PFAS were found in concerning levels in off-base well water samples, the Air Force did not disclose these results to well owners or the public.

“People around Colorado Springs have been drinking a witch’s brew of chemical runoff for possibly decades,” commented PEER’s Rocky Mountain Director Chandra Rosenthal, who obtained the results from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE).

While EPA has not set a drinking water limit for PFAS, many states, particularly those with current and former military facilities, have stepped in to set their own standards. “This stuff is dangerous at shockingly low levels,” said PEER Staff Counsel Kevin Bell, whose portfolio also covers PFAS and public records issues. “It’s not proven safe at any level, but at least six states have stronger standards than the one that the Air Force is applying–70 parts per trillion for the sum of two PFAS chemicals.”

The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found:

  • Levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 parts per trillion (ppt) in two locations
  • Combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.
  • Five unregulated PFAS in water samples, all of which are part of the Congressionally-mandated phase out of PFAS in military fire-fighting foam.

The State of Colorado has taken the important first step in figuring out the extent of the contamination in the state. The CDPHE is beginning the process of setting monitoring requirements for water and is planning to examine 18 of the different PFAS chemicals.

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition are working with the state to keep the interest of the public’s health in the forefront.

The Former Director of the U.S. National Institute of Health, Dr. Linda Birnbaum, has taken an interest in the Colorado process and recently reached out to the Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, to let the state know that the standards Colorado is considering are not protective enough.

“Colorado’s proposed threshold levels for PFAS are too lax and will mean less protection for state residents,” Sonya Lunder, Senior Toxics Policy Advisor for Sierra Club argues. “The tests show that toxic PFAS migrated out of the Air Force Academy and are measured at levels that would be considered illegal in several US states, yet the proposed Colorado standards wouldn’t require more testing or cleanup.”

Liz Rosenbaum, leader of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, is married to a Disabled Army Veteran and has a son in active duty in the Navy, and calls for the Air Force to do the right thing. “The Air Force invested millions in testing and cleaning up water in my community of Fountain. I’m not shocked to hear they have hid information from us about similar contamination on and near the Academy.”

Bill Beaudin and his family have lived in Woodman Valley, near the AF Academy, for over 40 years. Though the Beaudin’s believe that their well is contaminated, it was not tested by the Air Force because it is not used for drinking water. Bill believes that the military has a responsibility to measure the extent of the spread of contamination, “The location of the Fire Station Test Area on the Academy has been contaminated with foam chemicals since the 1970’s. The DOD may have contaminated Kettle Creek on the Academy lands, and Monument Creek which feeds into Pikeview Reservoir. This Reservoir has been a source of Colorado Springs Drinking water since 2004! We need more testing and we need to see the results of the tests.”


Compare Colorado’s proposed standards to other state standards

Review the Air Force test results

See Dr. Linda Birnbaum’s letter to the Director of CDPHE

Read PEER’s petition to have PFAS regulated under the TSCA

Phone: 202-265-7337

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Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

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