Air Force Firefighting Chemicals Leached in Groundwater Near Peterson

A civilian firefighter with the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron, Fire Department, works the nozzle of a ladder truck hose while perched on the elevated ladder on Sept. 16, 2013, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (U.S. Air Force photo/Greg L. Davis)
A civilian firefighter with the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron, Fire Department, works the nozzle of a ladder truck hose while perched on the elevated ladder on Sept. 16, 2013, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (U.S. Air Force photo/Greg L. Davis)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — An Air Force study released Tuesday confirmed that toxic chemicals in firefighting foam used at Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base leached into surrounding groundwater.

The report is based on dozens of soil and water tests over the last year at the base in Colorado Springs, The Gazette reported.

Base leaders have previously acknowledged dumping wastewater contaminated with foam into Colorado Springs' sewers three times a year, which likely made it easy for the chemicals to flow into the nearby Widefield Aquifer, a key source of water for the city of Fountain.

But while the report acknowledged the releases, it downplayed that as a contributor to toxic drinking water.

In May, state health officials said they had yet to find any other possible source of the contamination of the aquifer other than the foam, which airmen have used for firefighting training since the 1970s.

On Tuesday, Air Force officials met privately with local officials, including key staffers of Colorado's congressional delegation, El Paso County commissioners, city staffers, state and county environmental agency officials and representatives of Pikes Peak region water districts.

Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said he left the meeting frustrated that the investigation was not more all-encompassing.

"They need to step up," he said. "They created a problem, now we have to deal with it."

The mayor added that Air Force officials did not say when they would send the $4.3 million in aid promised last year, or if they would more fully reimburse communities burdened with treating the tainted water.

A Gazette investigation last fall revealed a string of Air Force studies and other military research dating to the late 1970s warning of the foam's danger. The chemicals have been linked to ailments including cancer, liver disease and low infant birth weight.

Tuesday's report comes more than a year into a water crisis that sent residents rushing to buy bottled water in 2016 while their water districts spent millions of dollars to rid their drinking water of the chemicals, known as perfluorinated compounds.

Local water officials have since turned to new water sources or installed new treatment systems to remove the toxic chemicals from the Widefield Aquifer water.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said after the report was released that he would call for more money to clean up the contamination and test the health of those affected by toxic water.

He is backing a House defense-spending plan that includes $30 million next year to deal with contamination from the firefighting foam nationwide.

Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazette.com

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