The residents of Colorado Springs have a major health risk on their hands. The United States Air Force verified that high levels of toxic chemicals in firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated their water and soil.
The military has been investigating PFC contamination from firefighting foam at hundreds of sites nationwide for the past couple years. The foam is used to extinguish fires that are difficult to suppress and often involve petroleum or other flammable liquids. These are known as Class B fires.
What Makes Firefighting Foam So Toxic?
The foam contains perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are used in products to make them resistant to grease. In addition to the firefighting foam, they can be found in cookware, clothing, fast food wrappers, and more. The terrifying aspect of PFCs is that they do not break down in the environment, so the toxicity level remains the same and does not dissipate over time.
Unfortunately, PFCs have also been linked to health issues, particularly in pregnant women and children. Exposure to high concentrations can cause kidney and testicle cancer, low birth weights, and other problems.
Water and Soil Contamination is 1,000 Times Higher Than Health Advisory Limit
Despite the associated health risks, there are no government regulations for PFC usage. The only guideline was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which set a provisional health advisory level at 70 parts per trillion for two PFCs in drinking water. This health advisory applies to Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctyl Sulfonate (PFOS).
According to the Denver Post, “Air Force engineers found PFC contamination of groundwater…reached levels up to 88,000 parts per trillion, and that soil contamination reached as high as 240,000 ppt.” The findings also showed that the PFCs contaminated the irrigation ponds of a nearby golf course, which could lead to exposure of anyone playing or working on the course.
The local residents are extremely concerned and with good reason. Sadly, no solution has been offered other than further investigations from the Air Force. They will be analyzing the human health risks associated with PFC contamination and estimate that information will be released after 2019.