State looks to expand knowledge of PFAS and related chemicals

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Hundreds of water sources across Colorado are being studied as state researchers aim to learn more about chemicals associated with fire fighting foam, waxes and Teflon, like PFAS and PFOAS.

Previously just a handful of wells, primarily in El Paso County, had been studied. Last year, $500,000 allocated from the state legislature gave the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment the ability to study 400 water sources across the state, as scientists say there is much to be learned about the chemicals.

“When we talk about PFAS, we’re actually talking about thousands of chemicals, and we actually only have scientific information for just a handful of these,” said Kristi Richardson, a toxicologist for CDPHE.

Two drinking water systems were found to have levels of the chemicals above the EPA guidelines, including a well in Teller County, near the Four Mile Fire Protection District. No community drinking water was found to have high levels of the chemicals.

The well in Teller County likely has elevated levels of the chemicals because of firefighting foam that had been widely used until recently, according to Richardson.

Rob Falco, Safe Drinking Water program director for CDPHE, said the Four Mile Fire Protection District does not use the well for drinking, but the state health department will work with the district to study the possible effects around the well.

“What we would want to do is understand a little bit more about the well, where is that well drilled into and what water are they getting. Then, we can kind of assess what that risk might be,” he said.

Falco said in the instance where chemicals are found in wells around the area, they will work with property owners to find alternative water sources like bottled water.

Water in the Stramoor Hills and Security Water and Sanitation district was also found to have higher levels of the chemicals, but that had already been known. In those districts, the chemicals either are not affecting drinking water or alternative water sources have been provided, a release from CDPHE said.

In order to limit exposure to the chemicals, the EPA has a voluntary program to dispose of them. Richardson believes that program is on the cusp of becoming mandatory. Restrictions were passed in 2019 in Colorado to restrict the chemicals as well.

Richardson said exposure to high levels of PFAS can cause developmental and intellectual delays, infertility, high cholesterol and other health effects on people.

She said in addition to learning more about the chemicals themselves, there is more to be learned about how they make it into water and what other health effects could be, even when a person is exposed to levels below EPA standards.

“As that science continues to evolve about exposure to lower levels and exposure to different chemicals, we’ll continue to evaluate that best available information to best protect Coloradans,” Richardson said.

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