DENVER — While Colorado lawmakers consider a ban on many products that contain PFAS “forever chemicals,” a growing list of fire departments across the state are pre-empting the possibility by selling their firefighting foams that contain the chemicals back to the state.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, more than 10,000 gallons have been collected from 27 departments as of March 25.
PFAS chemicals are often called “forever chemicals” by scientists because they break down very slowly and can remain in the ground and in water for a long time. They are found in many common products, including food containers, carpets, and furniture. According to the EPA, exposure to PFAS can lead to decreased fertility, developmental delays in kids and increased risk of some cancers.
PFAS in firefighting foam and gear is suspected to be a cause for increased risk of cancer among firefighters, who are 14% more likely to die from the disease compared to the US population, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control.
“Even though we don’t talk about cancers as often as perhaps we should, we know that it’s ever present in our life,” said Captain Greg Pixley, public information officer for the Denver Fire Department. “We trusted that the chemicals that were in these foams were doing the right thing — not only for the emergencies we were faced with but also for us as firefighters. It really breaks your heart, and as a firefighter that has been exposed to these things for a number of years — that’s when the cancer conversations come to light.”
Denver FD has sold back 1,635 gallons of firefighting foam containing PFAS as of March 25, according to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. DPHE pays $40 per gallon to departments so that they can purchase PFAS-free replacement foam. Currently, the EPA has not determined a safe disposal method for PFAS, so DPHE is providing interim storage for the chemicals.
The fight against PFAS in Colorado is not new. Denver7 spoke to Bonnie Rader, chair of the Lowry Landfill Citizen Advisory Group. The panel, which is recognized by the EPA, is calling on the state to conduct more tests for PFAS chemicals at and around the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site (DADS) in Aurora.
“I’ve lived out here since ’74,” Rader said. “At that time, all of these pits [at the landfill] were open. My family was really sick. We were literally wearing the chemicals because they were carried in the air all the way over to my home.”
Rader says her family members suffered from various ailments related to the chemicals at the landfill. Their symptoms subsided when the chemicals were covered and buried. However, now Rader worries about the impact the buried chemicals may have on the wells and aquifers underneath that supply many homes with water.
“We’re worried about our well water,” Rader said. “Our goal is to find a solution to these chemicals out here.”
In February, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser sued 15 companies that manufactured firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals. The lawsuit claims the chemicals were found in water sources and soil across the state and seeks to have the companies pay to further investigate, monitor and clean up the sites.