The Air Force says it can’t immediately provide bottled water to about three dozen households potentially impacted by toxic “forever chemicals” that originated at the Air Force Academy, despite pleas from an El Paso County commissioner for action.
Bottled water will not be given to the households in the Woodmen Valley area until water test results are returned in mid to late October, said Britt Grundewald, restoration program manager for the Air Force Civil Engineering Center. She cited Air Force contamination cleanup rules for the decision.
The lack of action raised concerns on Wednesday morning from El Paso County commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. during the county’s Board of Health meeting. He questioned the Air Force’s decision to wait until test results are complete.
“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Gonzalez, who also serves on the health board.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has urged homeowners in the neighborhood south of the academy and relying on private wells to use bottled water until their water can be tested.
Colorado Springs Utilities customers are not at risk of exposure to the chemicals through their drinking water, the utility says.
At commissioner’s urging, the director of El Paso County Public Health said she would check to see if her agency had the resources to provide bottled water.
The Air Force identified 38 wells used by 37 households that could be at risk for contamination from chemicals originating on the base, which used a firefighting foam for years that was laced with perfluorinated compounds. The man-made chemicals have been tied to a host of health ailments from high cholesterol to cancer. They also go by the name per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
Thirty-six of the wells have been sampled for testing, and another well is scheduled to be tested in mid-October. Grundewald said she has not been able to reach the owners of the 38th well.
Any wells that test above an Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory for the chemicals will be given bottled water, Grundewald said. That advisory was set at 70 parts per trillion — meaning a shot glass of perfluorinated chemicals would be enough to pollute 2.1 million bathtubs of water.
Wells testing at half the advisory’s level will be monitored quarterly, she said.
The Air Force also plans to drill wells and monitor groundwater chemical levels “for as long as this is an issue” to understand how the chemicals are moving off base, she said.
Most well owners in the area use bottled water, because the water tastes “terrible,” Grundewald said. Their wells pull from aquifers deep in the ground — usually 100 to 400 feet deep, she said.
Groundwater at the Air Force Academy that tested at high levels for the chemicals was relatively shallow — usually only 20 or 30 feet deep. Those groundwater channels appear to be largely cut off from deeper aquifers that connect to residents’ wells, she said.