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Air Force finds elevated chemical levels in groundwater, plans to test wells south of USAF Academy

Posted: 5:00 PM, Aug 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-26 18:28:04-04
US Air Force Academy
US Air Force Academy firefighting training grounds
Civilian water wells surrounding the USAF Academy

COLORADO SPRINGS — The U.S. Air Force has released preliminary information on an inspection across the Air Force Academy grounds to determine if there elevated levels of chemicals found in firefighting foam and other industrial products in the ground and groundwater. As a result, the Air Force will begin inspecting drinking wells south of the Academy, including the Woodmen Valley area, for potential contamination.

According to a release, the results show groundwater samples contain levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency Lifetime Health Advisory, which allows for 70 parts per trillion. These compounds have not been detected in water supplied by Colorado Springs Utilities to the Air Force Academy, according to the release. The statement references voluntary sampling conducted in January showed results at or below the EPA limit of 10 parts per trillion for water supplies.

As a result of the higher than acceptable levels found on-base, Air Force officials will now coordinate to test drinking water wells south of the government-owned property. A map provided within the study shows dozens of domestic and household use wells between Cottonwood Creek and US Air Force Academy property. County Commissioner Holly Williams tells News5 those who want to see if their well will be tested can call the Academy at (719) 333-7731.

According to the Colorado Water Control Division, inspectors will conduct a door-to-door survey with property owners to determine how many of the wells are used for drinking water. Health officials are advising people who use private wells in the area for drinking water to seek other sources of water until their water source is tested for contaminants.

The chemicals involved are Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), part of the family of PFCs (perfluorochemicals) and PFAS ( polyfluoroalkyl substances). which were found in groundwater and wells around Peterson Air Force Base and potentially 202 other facilities in recent years.

“We share community concerns about the possible impacts past use of these chemicals may have on human drinking water sources,” said Col. Brian Hartless, 10th Air Base Wing commander. “We will work closely with AFCEC to protect human health and conduct a thorough inspection to ensure safe drinking water.”

The Woodman Valley region is on the southern border with the Air Force Academy, to the west of I-25 and along Woodmen Road in Colorado Springs.

US Air Force Academy firefighting training grounds
Map showing the location of US Air Force Academy firefighting training grounds near water sources.
Civilian water wells surrounding the USAF Academy
Map provided within the Final Site Inspection report notes the water wells surrounding the US Air Force Academy.

News5 is in the process of looking over the extensive documents from the Final Site Inspection Report submitted by the Department of the Air Force to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.

CLICK HERE FOR THE ENTIRE 249 PAGE FINAL SITE INSPECTION REPORT

The areas on Academy property where fire training has taken place and continues to take place borders Kettle Creek and West Monument Creek to the south, and Monument creek is right between the two training areas.

The municipal water supply from Colorado Springs Utilities is sourced from reservoirs on Pikes Peak and further west in the mountains, not from well water. You can find the latest water quality report from CSU here.

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Excerpt from a related story in March 2019: Lawsuit seeks damages for water contamination from Peterson Air Force Base

The Air Force has admitted it’s use of firefighting foam which contains cancer causing agents ( polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that seeped into the groundwater in communities around the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has chosen Fountain as one of the eight U.S. communities to take part in a study to determined the dangers of human exposure to PFAS .

The CDC plans to randomly select people in the communities to participate in exposure assessments. Levels of PFAS will be checked through urine and blood sampling. The assessments will begin this year.

Since the 2016 discovery of the source of contamination to the water supply, the City of Fountain has installed new groundwater treatment systems and say the drinking water supply is safe.

All of the communities selected for this effort are near active or closed Air Force or Air National Guard installations.

  • Berkeley County (WV) near Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base
  • El Paso County (CO) near Peterson Air Force Base
  • Fairbanks North Star Borough (AK) near Eielson Air Force Base
  • Hampden County (MA) near Barnes Air National Guard Base
  • Lubbock County (TX) near Reese Technology Center (formerly Reese AFB)
  • Orange County (NY) near Stewart Air National Guard Base
  • New Castle County (DE) near New Castle Air National Guard Base
  • Spokane County (WA) near Fairchild Air Force Base

The CDC reports PFAS have been found in industrial and consumer products since the 1950’s. Including: in non-stick cookware; water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets; some cosmetics; some firefighting foams; and products that resist grease, water, and oil.

“Scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposure to PFAS. Some studies have shown that PFAS exposure may affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children; lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant; interfere with the body’s natural hormones; increase cholesterol levels; affect the immune system; and increase the risk of cancer,” the CDC states in a release.

The EPA’s plan is to recommend a new standard drinking water regulations by the end of the year which call for lower allowable levels of the potentially dangerous chemicals.

PFAS Exposure Assessment or PFAS – https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/index.html