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Unsafe levels of ‘forever chemicals’ found in private wells near Peterson Space Force Base

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - New publicly available data from the Department of Defense shows high levels of “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in hundreds of private water wells near Peterson Space Force Base.

According to the Department of Defense's (DoD) testing samples from private water wells from 2021 to 2023, more than 100 wells near Peterson Space Force Base contain PFAS levels higher than the EPA’s safety standard, including dozens of wells with levels 75 times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe.

“People should be able to turn on the tap and have safe, reliable drinking water,” said Jared Hayes, a senior policy analyst with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which analyzed and compiled the Department of Defense data.

PFAS levels are measured in parts per trillion. One part per trillion is the equivalent of a drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool. The EPA’s new standard for PFAS in drinking water, as of March 2023, is four parts per trillion. However, the EPA has until September 3, 2024 to finalize the new drinking water standard.

“It's a very, very small amount and we know that that very, very small amount in our water can be dangerous,” Hayes said.

The Department of Defense’s policy is to provide alternative drinking water to residents whose private wells contain more than 70 parts per trillion, which was the EPA's previous health guideline and now 17.5 times higher than the new standard.

Hayes said that the majority of PFAS contamination from military bases comes from industrial firefighting foam, known as Triple F, which is used to put out airplane or large oil fires. He said chemicals from this foam typically seep into the ground and travel beyond military bases.

“The contamination doesn't end at the base line,” Hayes said. “It will go into private communities and end up in these private drinking water wells, and folks who have probably been drinking it for decades haven't known about it.”

The DoD has been testing off-base wells for years, but Congress recently required the agency to make the sample results publicly available. The EWG found 2,805 private water wells near 63 military bases in 29 states were contaminated with PFAS chemicals above the EPA’s safety standard of four parts per trillion (ppt).

According to the data, there are 62 wells near the Peterson Space Force Base above the DoD’s standard of 70 ppt, meaning residents of those 62 wells are supposed to be provided alternative drinking water. Peterson also has the sixth most wells, with 101 wells, of any military base in the country with PFAS levels above the EPA’s standard but below the DoD’s threshold for providing alternative drinking water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said unsafe levels of PFAS have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, harmful fetal development, and suppression of the immune system.

KRDO13 Investigates reached out to the Peterson Space Force Base and the Department of Defense about these high levels of PFAS chemicals found in private water wells.

To date, the Air Force has spent $103 million to investigate and address the impact of PFOS and PFOA associated with our mission activities to drinking water supplies. Examples include both large-scale treatment plants in the Fountain, Security and Widefield communities, as well as providing monitoring and in-home filtration for those on private wells. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center also has multiple projects underway to treat both water and soil, and prevent further migration into groundwater.

We remain committed to fulfilling our cleanup responsibilities, operating within the law and authorities provided by the federal cleanup law, and clearly communicating and engaging with communities.

Peterson Space Force

“D.O.D. has known about this for a very long time and they have been really dragging their feet when it comes to making these responses,” Hayes said. “We need more testing, we need more cleanup and we need it now.”

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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