Blood Tests Show Elevated Chemical Levels For El Paso Residents Living With Contaminated Water

December 14, 2018
Photo: Peterson AFB PFC Wastewater - AP
Wastewater is stored in this tank from firefighting exercises on Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. 

Eighty percent of blood samples taken from a sample of 200 southern El Paso County residents in Fountain, Security and Widefield show the presence of more than 10 synthetic chemicals, according to research into the area’s drinking water.

Preliminary results from the Colorado School of Mines and the Colorado School of Public Health research were shared with residents Thursday night. The contaminants are linked to firefighting foam used at nearby Peterson Air Force Base.

Dr. John Adgate, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, said blood samples show some chemicals at rates twice as high and up to 12 times as high as median levels found across the country.

Adgate demonstrated on an area map that researchers were able to how chemical “levels vary as you move from the north to the south … so this is consistent in our view with the source being the firefighting foams.”

Despite the chemical exposure, the impact on people's cholesterol and liver have been limited.

The Environmental Protection Agency has linked high concentrations of perfluorinated compound exposure to low birth weights and even forms of cancer. Across the country, contamination has been linked to two sources: leaks from manufacturing plants that make substances like teflon and places that used the firefighting foam found at Peterson.

Fountain resident Susan Gordon was one of more than 200 people whose blood was tested as part of the study. She wasn’t surprised by her results.  

“Unfortunately some of the most important questions, in terms of what these high levels in my blood may mean to my family in the future in terms of health effects, those questions can’t really be answered,” she said. “I think most concerning to me is this toxicity will be passed on to the next generation.”

Gordon, a former Venetucci Farm manager, is frustrated with state regulators and legislators for not setting stricter water standards like other states have. Adgate said people can limit their exposure to the synthetic chemicals by having private wells checked for contamination, avoiding stain- and water-resistant products as well as eating less fast food.