Utilities

Study: Local water contaminated

water-contaminated

Fountain, Widefield, Security systems contain chemicals linked to health hazards

Recent studies in Fountain, Security and Widefield show that the water there is contaminated with industrial chemicals that could cause a public health hazard.

Known as perfluoroalkyls, or PFAs, research suggests the chemicals are potent carcinogens and endocrine disrupters at levels far below the Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional exposure limits for drinking water.

And no one seems to know where the contaminants are coming from — or even that they were there in the first place. The city of Fountain’s 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report doesn’t mention PFAs or any other “unregulated reportable contaminant.”

Ron Woolsey, who heads Fountain’s Water Department, was unaware of any PFA contamination of the city’s water supply or of the EPA test results. It’s not clear if the EPA reported these results to the three affected systems.

“We get about 70 percent of our water from the Frying Pan/Arkansas project, via Pueblo Reservoir,” he said. “The remaining 30 percent comes from wells in Fountain and wells on the Venetucci Farm that we share with Security and Widefield. When [CSU’s] SDS [Southern Delivery System] comes on line, we’ll get 100 percent of our water from Pueblo Reservoir.”

CSBJ provided Woolsey with links to source documents uncovered for this story.

“Thanks for that information,” he said. “You’re sort of the canary in the coal mine for us. We’re going to investigate further, talk to [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] and figure out what the next step will be. Those [PFA substances] sound pretty alarming.”

Both Colorado Springs and Pueblo use Fry-Ark water, and no PFAs were detected in their water systems.

It could be that water from Fountain Valley wells or surface water sources are contaminated by either landfills or residue from industrial processes, but no one is really sure.

What are PFAs?

Perfluoroalkyls were first developed by 3M in 1951. DuPont used them for decades to manufacture common commercial products such as Teflon and Scotchgard.

Many are ubiquitous in world ecosystems. Once in a fish, a bird or a human body, they neither decay nor metabolize. The chemicals have been found in people’s bloodstreams, in polar bears in the Arctic and salmon caught in Alaska.

PFAs are highly toxic, but it has long been assumed by public health officials that minute quantities in drinking water pose no risk.

But that might not be the case.

Tests confirm

Although industrial use of these compounds has been curtailed recently, EPA testing has found that 6.5 million Americans in 27 states are exposed to PFA-tainted drinking water. The chemicals have been detected in 94 public water systems — including the three El Paso County systems.

According to information on the EPA’s website, PFAs are present in drinking water systems that serve 70,000 customers in El Paso County; the agency found more than 200 contaminants in 106 tested samples with a maximum contaminant level of 1.3 parts per billion — among the highest levels of all the water systems that showed evidence of PFA contamination.

“In January 2009,” according to the EPA’s website, “the EPA’s Office of Water established a provisional health advisory of 0.2 micrograms per liter for PFOS and 0.4 µg/L for PFOAs to assess the potential risk from short-term exposure of these chemicals through drinking water. PHAs [advisories] reflect reasonable, health-based hazard concentrations above which action should be taken to reduce exposure to unregulated contaminants in drinking water.”

“We’re going to investigate further, talk to CDPHE, and figure out what the next step will be.” 

– Ron Woolsey

This advisory covered only two of the five PFAs that were found in the three area water systems. Both PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) were present in the Fountain, Widefield and Security systems, but apparently not in quantities sufficient to trigger action by the water providers.

“With regard to the 52 positive results for PFOA,” EPA spokesman Robert Daguillard said, “none of the measurements are above the PHA level of 0.4 ug/L. Of the 45 positive results for PFOS, eight of them are above the PHA level of 0.2 ug/L [ppb] (ranging from 0.21-1.3 ug/L). They are associated with two sample events at Security WSD and one sample event at Widefield WSD.”

Changing regulations

But the EPA might soon deliver new regulations based on recent studies. A paper by Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health and Richard Clapp of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell published in the journal “New Solutions” found that PFAs are hazardous at much lower levels. They can cause cancer, heart disease, birth defects and weaker immune systems.

“Grandjean and Clapp suggested that the EPA’s approach in 2009 led to a presumed safe level ‘at least two orders of magnitude’ higher than the newer studies indicate would protect human health with an adequate margin of safety,” the Environmental Working Group said in an analysis of the study. “… lower than the EPA advisory level by a factor of more than 1,300.”

About 200 prominent scientists worldwide signed the 2015 Madrid Statement, calling on the international community to limit the production and use of PFAs. The statement noted the “growing body of epidemiological evidence” linking PFAs to testicular and liver cancer, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, obesity, decreased immune response to vaccines, reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty.

If EWG’s calculations are correct, drinking water in Security, Widefield and Fountain could contain hundreds, even thousands of times the safe level of PFOA and PFOS contaminants. Other PFA contaminants detected in the three systems include perfluoroheptanoic acid, perfluorohexanesulfonic acid and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid.

A regulatory tangle

Thanks to legal constrictions, the EPA has little power to regulate industrial chemicals such as PFAs.

“Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act,” reporter Nathaniel Rich pointed out in a recent New York Times article, “the EPA can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the EPA has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years.”

Lawsuits related to a class action against DuPont for harmful use of PFAs have been making their way slowly through the courts. Filed on behalf of thousands of residents of Ohio and West Virginia, the suits allege that DuPont is responsible for adverse health effects from PFA pollution of multiple drinking water systems.

While there are no certain guidelines that specify PFA drinking water safety levels. The lawsuit against DuPont in West Virginia included anyone whose drinking water had PFOA or PFOS levels above 0.05 parts per billion.

Water provided to residents of Fountain, Security and Widefield showed maximum PFA contaminant level of 1.3 ppb, 26 times greater than the 0.05 cut-off for West Virginia plaintiffs.

No state recourse

Although a handful of states — Minnesota, New Jersey and North Carolina — have established guidelines for PFA contaminants, Colorado is not among them.

CDPHE administers the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, but its regulatory flexibility is limited by state legislative mandate to be neither more nor less restrictive than those set by the EPA. CDPHE is able to give assistance to local water providers.

“We provide assistance to water systems throughout the state,” said Nicole Graziano, CDPHE’s technical and regulatory implementation and coordination unit manager for the safe drinking water program.

“We have a lot of staff who work to assure that drinking water is at the highest level of safety to protect public health.”

Fountain’s Woolsey is determined to find the source of the PFA contaminants and eliminate them. It’s not his first rodeo.

“We went through this sort of thing with Schlage Lock and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) years ago,” he said. “Well pollution has always been a concern. The three systems are all interconnected in lots of ways, so it’s possible that we can identify the source, but it may not be simple.”

The EPA confirmed that the chemicals can be removed from water by implementing treatment at centralized facilities or in homes by installing activated carbon filters.

[Read our next article regarding the water in Fountain, Security and Widefield.]
10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Sarah Healy

    January 14, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you! I wondered if anyone locally would followup on the NYTimes Sunday magazine article that said “Residents of Seattle; Wilmington, DE; Colorado Springs; and Nassau County on Long Island are among those whose water has a higher concentration of fluorochemicals than that in some of the districts included in Rob Bilott’s class-action suit.”

  2. Milinda Long

    January 14, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I’m glad I saw this tonight, now I know I’m not going crazy, and what I thought and think is actually real. Thank you

  3. M.R. Bradbury

    January 14, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    If the water samples taken were placed into a container with a teflon sealant lid, then this might be the source of the PFA. It would be best to carefully resample and ensure no cross contamination occurs as well as following strict lab procedures. Recommend using at least three separate labs and multiple blind samples to ensure there is no slip up in the analytical process. It will be expensive, but may provide information that would either confirm the contamination or the results were from sample/lab error. And yes…EPA does screw up occasionally.

    • Brandon

      January 15, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Why the frick would a lab use a “teflon sealant lid”? Are you being serious? Do you work for the water company?

  4. Nic Panchev

    February 1, 2016 at 9:46 am

    THE ULTIMATE FRAUD BY ALL GOVS – PRIOR TO TESTING IN A LAB, FILTERING THE SAMPLED WATER – TERMED “FRAUDULENT TEST BY EPA METHOD”

    SEE WHAT IS TRANSPIRING – GET READY FOE CIVIL UNREST

    Published Article (pending publishing at New York Times, et al, major newsmedia)

    Contaminated Water, Hinkley, CA 92347
    The oldest contaminated water crisis, Hinkley, CA, due to nonresponsive (deaf-mute-blind) governments
    https://www.prlog.org/12529286-contaminated-water-hinkley-ca-92347.html

    By: http://www.victimstownofhinkley.org

    Two days ago there was an attempt to assassinate me

  5. Dawn

    April 27, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    “The EPA confirmed that the chemicals can be removed from water by implementing treatment at centralized facilities …”

    So has this been done? Any follow-up on this story?

    • Amy Gillentine Sweet

      April 28, 2016 at 8:48 am

      Dawn, We are told by the water districts that they’ve shut down several wells. However, centralized treatment is very expensive — so the EPA also recommends that water users buy a filter to use if they are concerned about contamination. Filters are available at any home improvement store.

      • gloria

        July 21, 2016 at 5:56 pm

        Why are we to buy the filters? Isn,t that something that EPA should do? Why are they not supplying bottled water to us until something is done, if it ever is.

        • Amy Gillentine Sweet

          July 22, 2016 at 8:11 am

          Gloria, According to an announcement from the Air Force: “The Air Force has awarded $108,000 as part of a larger contract to provide alternate drinking water to Widefield, Security and Fountain residents whose water may be contaminated with perflourinated compounds, or PFCs.

          “Bristol/Weston was selected through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers July 20 to deliver bulk drinking water to private well owners and small systems that exceed the health advisory limit and don’t have another source of water. Working with El Paso County Public Health, the Air Force is funding the drinking water supplies as part of a $4.3 million rapid response contract that will also fund development and installation of a temporary water treatment system to treat drinking water in the area.

          “The initial contract will fund a water company to place five-gallon water bottles in locations identified by El Paso County Public Health.

          “‘As good stewards of the environment, we take any environmental concerns seriously that could impact our neighbors and communities,’ said Lt. Col. Chad Gemeinhardt, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron commander at Peterson AFB. ‘The Air Force is using a comprehensive approach to identify and respond to the PFC contamination of drinking water, and providing clean water is an essential first step.’

          “Public Health is working to identify the homes and businesses on private wells or small drinking water systems which were above the PFC health advisory limit and need alternative sources of drinking water. The small drinking water systems include: Fountain Valley Shopping Center, Security Mobile Home Park, Pentecostal Assembly Church and NORAD Mobile Home Park. El Paso County Public Health encourages residents on private wells to call 575-8602 to learn about private well testing and the option for those on private wells to receive bulk drinking water delivery.

          “The initial award provides additional time to customize solutions for large and small water systems, including possible options for water filtration units to go into homes with private wells. Information on those contract awards will be announced when plans are finalized.”

  6. ИнтерДизайн

    March 8, 2017 at 4:04 pm

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