State Issues Water Advice After Tests At Air Force Academy

United States Air Force Academy

Colorado health officials say people living south of the Air Force Academy should switch to bottled water if they rely on wells with elevated levels of a toxic chemical the military used in firefighting foam.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reported Saturday the advice also applies to people who haven't yet tested area wells for the presence of chemicals called PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Tests showed elevated levels of PFAS in groundwater beneath the academy campus. The academy gets its water from Colorado Springs Utilities, but the state identified about 30 domestic wells near the school.

The chemicals were used in nonstick cookware and stain-resistant carpet as well as in firefighting foam. They're sometimes called "forever chemicals" because they're expected to take thousands of years to degrade.

The U.S. Air Force has spent hundreds of millions to clean up contamination from the toxic firefighting foam used for training exercises on bases across the country.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory in 2016 that warned of the connection between PFAS and certain types of cancer.

After the advisory and the discovery of widespread groundwater and soil contamination near Peterson Airforce Base -- just south of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs -- the Pikes Peak Community Foundation shut down organic vegetable production at the Venetucci farm. They opted to instead raise lower-priced feedstock for horses.

It’s one example of the financial burden this region still bears from the pollution, despite the $50 million the Air Force has spent on cleanup around Peterson.

“There are 60,000 stories just like this and they’re happening at the kitchen sink in every Fountain, Widefield and Security home,”  said Sam Clark, the foundation’s director of philanthropy, of the communities whose water was tainted by the foam.