Air Force: Toxic Wastewater Didn’t Leak Into Sewer, More Likely Evaporated

Photo: Col Doug Schiess, Peterson AFB, Spill News Conference
Col. Douglas Schiess, 21st Space Wing commander at Peterson Air Force Base, said officials disposed of PFC laden water into the Colorado Springs sewer system about three times a year between 1990 and August 2016.

Col. Douglas Schiess said that 20,000 gallons of wastewater held in an open pit disappeared, but evaporation in hot weather was determined to be the likely culprit, rather than a discharge. That water was in a fire training system on base, and it didn't get into the city's sewer system as originally thought.

Officials originally said that 150,000 gallons of water contaminated by chemicals used in firefighting foam that disappeared from Peterson flowed into the city's wastewater treatment system but didn't get into drinking water.

Schiess said that firefighters overestimated how much wastewater was in a storage tank and that, along with miscommunications, led commanders to believe that 150,000 gallons were missing.

Col. Shiess did confirm that the base has released PFC-laden water in the past, about three times a year, into the sewer. Those releases happened from 1990 to August of 2016. Schiess said the Air Force immediately stopped the practice in August.

“We tested the system at the end of August and that’s when we talked to Colorado Springs utilities to inform them that we did find high levels of PFCs in the water.”

Peterson AFB officials are investigating how firefighting foam is connected to PFC groundwater contamination south of the base. The Environmental Protection Agency has linked PFC exposure to low birth weights and forms of cancer.

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