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CDC study finds elevated levels of PFAS in Security-Widefield residents

EL PASO COUNTY, Co. (KRDO) - A new report released by the federal government finds Security-Widefield residents have elevated levels of ‘forever chemicals,’ or PFAS, in their blood.

Though the study was conducted in 2020, this has been an ongoing problem for the area.

In 2013, the Security-Widefield area was one of several sites in the nation found with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) drinking water contamination from use of products such as aqueous film forming foam (AFFF).

As early as the 1970s, Peterson Air Force Base used AFFF containing PFAS for its firefighter training.

Over several years, the PFAS from the AFFF entered the ground, moved into the groundwater, and affected nearby municipal wells.

In 2020, 346 people who lived in the Security-Widefield area near Peterson Space Force agreed to participate in the Exposure Assessment (EA) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The agencies tested for 7 ‘forever chemicals.’

The findings released Tuesday show levels of PFHXS and PFOA in the blood of participating residents were up to 6.8 and 1.2 times the national levels.

"We talk about them being dangerous chemicals," said Barbara Gottlieb. "They have a whole range of risks.”

Barbara Gottlieb is the Program Director for Environment and Health in the national office of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

While the federal study explicitly says the results 'cannot be used to assess current or past health problems or predict the future occurrence of disease,' Gottlieb’s organization has been studying PFAS for years.

She says the risks range from more manageable problems like high cholesterol and blood pressure, to cancers and death.

"PFAS can be associated with a higher cholesterol level," said Gottlieb. "Many of us have high cholesterol levels, but we often don't know what it's due to. It actually can be due to substances in the environment like chemicals. It is also a risk factor in high blood pressure. If it's something that's not inherited, something your parents or grandparents didn't have, and if you lead a healthy lifestyle and eat well, you might think, why do I have high blood pressure? It could be due to PFAS chemicals."

It also can affect babies and pregnant women.

"PFAS exposure can contribute to low birth weight in newborns," said Gottlieb. "People may or may not know at this, but low birth weight is one of the factors that's associated with infant death. It's also associated with a higher risk of kidney or testicular cancer. So we go from the not so terribly worrisome to really potentially life-threatening risks."

ATSDR says it has reviewed information about the public drinking water supply in Security-Widefield and concluded it currently meets or is below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2016 health advisory.

It believes the water is now safe and does not recommend community members use alternative sources of water.

To address the community’s concerns, a virtual information session will be held at 6 p.m. June 28 for everyone to learn more about the results of the assessment.

To register for the event, click here.

ATSDR staff will also host small, in-person and online meetings to answer questions.

ATSDR staff are available for small in-person meetings at the Security Public Library (715 Aspen Drive Security, CO 80911). Dates and times are as follows:

  • June 29
    • 9am-11am
    • 12pm-2pm
    • 4:30pm-6:30pm
  • June 30
    • 9am-11am

Staff are offering an additional virtual meeting on July 1, from 12pm-1pm MDT.

Those interested in participating in the small, in-person and online meetings are encouraged to sign up here: https://bit.ly/Security-WidefieldEASmallMtg.

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Mallory Anderson

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