Feds, state to study chemical exposure in El Paso County drinking water

The county is home to Peterson Air Force Base, which used per- and polyfluoroalkyl in firefighting foam

Photo by Brandon Giesbrecht via Flickr: Creative Commons

WASHINGTON — The federal government announced Monday that Colorado is one of seven states chosen for a study of the human health effects of exposures to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) through drinking water. 

The Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry announced that it will partner with the Colorado School of Public Health’s University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to look at PFAS exposures in El Paso County, Colo. 

El Paso County is the home of Peterson Air Force Base, which used PFAS-containing firefighting foam. El Paso residents have urged federal officials to ensure the safety of their water supplies. 

PFAS — chemicals used in everything from firefighting foam to clothing and nonstick pans — have caused alarm in communities across the country. They have been linked to cancer and other serious health problems, and environmental and public health advocates want faster cleanup and strict guidelines for the allowable limits of the chemicals in drinking water.

Some studies in people have shown that exposure to certain PFAS might adversely impact growth of infants and children, lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk for some cancers, according to the CDC. 

The upcoming study will collect information about a range of health impacts, but won’t be large enough to “effectively evaluate the relationship between PFAS exposure and cancer,” according to the government. 

The federal agencies overseeing the study said they understand that “addressing cancer is a major concern for some community members” and officials are continuing to look at other ways to study links between PFAS and cancer. 

PFAS exposure studies will also take place in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and California. 

These exposure studies were authorized in defense spending bills for fiscal 2018 and 2019. Lawmakers are pushing for additional PFAS reforms in the fiscal 2020 spending bill, but those efforts have encountered resistance from the White House. 

“It’s long past time we treat this public health crisis with the seriousness it merits,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said in a statement Monday. “PFAS contamination is putting the health of Coloradans at risk, and we must do everything we can to ensure our families have safe drinking water.”

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