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Peterson AFB’s gift to neighbors: Toxic levels of PFCs in blood

The firefighting foam used by Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the drinking water for residents nearby, and a study by University of Colorado researchers found that after decades of exposure, nearby residents have extremely high levels of toxic PFCs in their blood.

Researchers began studying blood level test results since we reported on it last year. The issue is based on a study that determined the PFC levels found in the groundwater and soil were more than 1,000 times the health advisory limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency for similar chemicals.

So how did that translate to the effects on residents?

According to a report released Thursday, researchers found that residents in the Fountain Valley had a medial level of PFHxS (Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) that is more than 10 times higher than the national average (14.8 ug/level compared to 1.4 ug/ml.) One case was as high as 199 ug/ml.

The median for PFOS in blood was almost twice the national average.

Researchers say that makes Colorado the “highest median PFHxS of the Department of Defense sites that had free PFAS blood testing” in the nation.

The government says the effects of PFHxS on humans aren’t fully known, but also acknowledged that “studies have found that animals exposed to PFC/PFAS have shown changes in the function of the liver, thyroid, pancreas, and hormone levels.”

Thursday evening, a water coalition is hosting CU researcher Dr. John Adgate and other researchers for a talk about the results. That’s taking place at 6:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 1003 N. Santa Fe Ave. in Fountain.

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The foam often used by firefighters to douse flames ended up contaminating drinking water for residents in Fountain and Security-Widefield, and now scientists want to know its effects on residents.

A two-year grant has been secured for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Colorado School of Mines to see the health impacts of those film-forming foams used in firefighting and training.

The researchers will be measuring biological markers of exposure and health indicators in about 200 people who consumed contaminated water, according to a news release issued Thursday.

It stems from a nine-month study conducted by the U.S. Air Force that says firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the groundwater and soil with poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). The levels found in the groundwater and soil were more than 1,000 times the health advisory limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency for similar chemicals.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is funding the study to understand the biological impacts of those PFASs. The organization says little information is known about the effects of PFASs on humans in areas with water contaminated by film-forming foams.

“This research will contribute to our understanding of the factors driving this unique exposure and how it may affect long-term health,” said Dr. John Adgate, chair of ColoradoSPH’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and principal investigator of the study.

Adgate added that exposure to PFASs has been significantly reduced because of work by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and local water utilities. Carbon filtration systems and alternative water supplies were implemented in early 2016 after the contamination was discovered.