Citizens still concerned about water contamination after public meeting

originally posted on July 8, 2016


COLORADO SPRINGS – Nearly 1,000 citizens packed into Mesa Ridge High School Thursday evening, demanding answers about the possible threat to the health of their families through tap water in Fountain, Security and Widefield.

At this point, Fountain is delivering only clean surface water to its customers, while Security and Widefield still have customers in the advisory zone. People at Thursday’s public meeting, though, are worried about how long they have been drinking manmade compounds and the long-term effects they may have.

Work is just getting started between Fountain, Security and Widefield water districts, the Air Force, and public health departments to fix the groundwater contamination in the Widefield aquifer. The Air Force admits it used firefighting foam containing PFCs up until 2002. The military branch earmarked $4.3 million for the investigation and potential solutions even before an official source for this contamination is confirmed.

“Sometimes people do things they don’t think are hazardous because nobody’s watching or nobody has stated that the chemicals are harmful and they just kind of get lax, so I think that’s what’s happened here,” says Dewayne Mayo, who has lived in the Security area for 50 years.

Not everyone is content with the Air Force’s contribution. Vietnam veteran David Spangler says, “Everybody’s ‘oh thank you, thank you.’ It’s still taxpayer money. The people here that are in trouble, they’re the ones that are also paying for it. It’s taxpayer money!”

At the public meeting, Dr. Mike Van Dyke with the state health department noted a higher rate of lung, kidney and bladder cancer than the rest of El Paso County, but they say it is likely linked to the higher rate of smokers in those communities. EPA research shows PFCs can, however, cause problems with birth weight, development in young children, cholesterol, uric acid and cancer.

Spangler is worried for the future of his grandchildren. He says, “I’m concerned about them growing up 10-11 years with this. They’re little. 4 years old right now. In 10 years, 14. 10 more years, 24. How do I know they’re not going to have cancer?”

The EPA only advises pregnant and breastfeeding women and infants to avoid the tap water in affected areas, but Van Dyke said at the meeting that the water is not 100% safe for anyone to drink. He suggested concerned citizens find another water source, or get a reverse osmosis filter for their homes, which will not be cheap. “If they can’t clean up the water quickly enough, then they at least ought to offer their customers some form of rebate so we can purify the water coming out of our taps,” says Mayo.

Consumer carbon filters are not adequate to remove PFCs from tap water, but the Granular Activated Carbon filters the water districts are considering installing on the wells themselves would potentially clean the water.

Questions also arose at the meeting about other uses for the contaminated water. The EPA is still conducting research on the health impacts of PFCs, but believes pets may feel the same impacts as humans. The agency believes it is safe to bathe and wash clothes and vegetables in water containing PFCs, but advises against using the water while cooking foods that may absorb it. They still do not know the effects of contaminated water on vegetable gardens.

For perspective, the EPA advisory level for PFCs of 70 parts per trillion in water is equivalent to a teaspoon in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The only people who may still have contaminated groundwater coming through the tap are in Security Water District Zone 1 and the west side of Widefield Water District.

Colorado Springs Utilities is letting Security siphon off more water from the SDS pipeline. That deal was finalized Thursday.

Widefield also announced plans to install a free water pumping station for its west side customers starting next week. Those customers will be able to get ten gallons per week.

The Air Force is working with El Paso County public health on a plan to provide free water to private well owners and smaller areas using the groundwater from the Widefield aquifer. Results have come back from county testing for 37 wells, and 70% show elevated levels of PFCs. The county urges all private well owners in the area to call for a free test of their water.

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