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EPA proposes first-ever national standard to regulate ‘forever chemicals’ that contaminated groundwater in El Paso County

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a proposal to strictly regulate six specific toxic substances in groundwater -- the same chemicals that affected water quality in Fountain, Security-Widefield and other communities in El Paso County.


The chemicals are acids called PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) that also are known as "forever chemicals" and "GenX chemicals" because they remain detectable in water for decades.

PFAS in foam formerly used to train firefighters at Peterson Space Force Base were determined to have contaminated groundwater used for drinking as recently as 2016.


Fountain and Security-Widefield have since installed new filtration and treatment systems to remove PFAS from the water, and officials now consider it safe to drink.


"(The EPA proposal has) no practical impact to us, but it does enable us to go back to the Air Force and ask them to participate in helping us with the costs of operations of this facility," said Dan Blankenship, Fountain's director of utilities.


Lix Rosenbaum has fought against PFAS contamination for seven years as a member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, and said that results of the EPA proposal -- if approved -- won't happen immediately.

"It's a gradual seven-year process, the way I look at it -- because technology had to catch up," she said. "The things that are available for home filtration didn't exist seven years ago."


Rosenbaum is one of 425 homeowners in the Midway community, south of Fountain, which also is dealing with PFAs but doesn't have as many resources to build large-scale treatment or filtering plants.

However, members of Midway's homeowners association said that a small treatment plant is operating, and the community's water district is applying for grants to pay for a filtering facility.


Keith Devore, of the water district, said that some residents are using $70 Aqua Gear filters -- that can purify water a pitcher-full at a time -- and paying $80 to test the water, as a temporary solution.


The EPA expects to finalize and enact the new regulations at the end of this year, after an extended period of public comment.

The announcement essentially confirms what many people in affected communities have believed for decades -- that PFAS are a likely cause of cancer and other ailments.


Rosenbaum said that she contracted cancer several years ago.

"My organs shut down," she recalled. "I don't see what else could have caused it. I still haven't fully recovered. My medical bills were around $100,000 and I had to personally finance $11,000 to pay for my medical bills -- and none of that is my fault."


Despite the new treatment facilities in Fountain and Security-Widefield, many people still line up at a bottled water station to buy the liquid because they don't trust the new systems.

"I'm a cancer survivor, myself," said Helen Fox. "I can't say for sure what caused it, but I'm sure a lot of people are concerned. I come here to get water for my coffee business because it's softer water."


Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, believes that the EPA and PFAS manufacturers should do more for people affected by the contamination.

"If they knew about it before, they should have put their foot down then, or made some reaction to it then, other than handing out free water," she said.


The EPA said that it expects, once implemented, the new regulations will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.

Meanwhile, Peterson Space Force Base released the following statement Tuesday:

"The Department of Defense respects and values the public comment process on this proposed nationwide drinking water rule and looks forward to the clarity that a final regulatory drinking water standard for PFAS will provide. In anticipation of the final standard that Environmental Protection Agency expects to publish by the end of 2023, the Department of Defense is assessing what actions DoD can take to be prepared to incorporate EPA's final regulatory standard into our current cleanup process.  These actions include reviewing our existing data and conducting additional sampling where necessary. In addition, DoD will incorporate nationwide PFAS cleanup guidance, issued by EPA and applicable to all owners and operators under the federal cleanup law, as to when to provide alternate drinking water when PFAS are present."

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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