Colorado SpringsEnvironmentNewsWater

El Paso County residents urge EPA to regulate toxic chemicals

Author: Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette - August 8, 2018 - Updated: August 23, 2018

(Photo courtesy of the Security Water and Sanitation District)

Over and over, residents and clean water advocates implored the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday evening to set enforceable drinking water standards for the toxic chemicals contaminating their water — and at tighter levels than the agency currently deems acceptable.

Their pleas came during the EPA’s third stop in a nationwide tour meant to help its leaders create a management plan for the toxic chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds. It marked the first opportunity in more than two years for people affected by the toxic chemicals to sound off to the EPA on the contamination of their drinking water.

Many argued that the EPA’s response was past due.

His voice cracking, Mark Favors, 49, listed several family members who drank the water most of their lives and have since died, many from kidney cancer. He read the obituary of one, Shelton Lee King, a retired master sergeant who served in Vietnam and died in 2012 of kidney cancer.

“You have us begging you, for people that sacrificed for this country, and you can’t be over-cautious for their lives,” Favors said. “And to me, that’s unacceptable.”

Appearing with a bandage on her head after having been hit by a baseball-sized hailstone a day earlier, Carla Lucas, 69, said she needed the EPA to understand the dire need to act. Lucas, a 46-year resident of Security, and her son have been diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, which they fear are due to the water.

“When will we start putting human health above corporate profits?” she asked.

Doug Benevento, the EPA’s administrator in charge of Colorado, urged the crowd that “this isn’t a vacuum you’re speaking into.”

“We are working, but what I’ve heard is you want us to work hard, and faster,” Benevento said.

The EPA’s current process for regulating chemicals does not call for instituting any new drinking water standards for perfluorinated compounds until 2021.

Jennifer McLain, the agency’s deputy director in charge of groundwater and drinking water, said the agency is trying to accelerate that process, though she gave no timeline for when that might happen.

“We are working as quickly as we can,” McLain said.

So far, the EPA has only committed to evaluate the need for an enforceable drinking water standard for the two best-known types of perfluorinated compounds: perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.

The EPA also is seeking to propose that those two chemicals be classified as “hazardous substances,” easing the process for seeking Superfund cleanup funding. And it is seeking to develop groundwater cleanup recommendations for both chemicals.

In addition, the agency is working to set toxicity levels for two other types of perfluorinated compounds. Neither was included in a different agency’s recent list of possibly dangerous chemicals.

The EPA’s management plan is due out by the end of the year.

In May 2016, the EPA issued a lifetime health advisory for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion. That’s a shot glass of the chemical in 107 million gallons of water.

The chemicals have been used in myriad household items, as well as in a firefighting foam used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base, and they might cause cancer, liver damage and several other ailments.

Water officials for Security, Widefield and Fountain have since piped in clean water from elsewhere, or installed filtration systems that they say remove the chemicals to nondetectable levels.

Creating an enforceable drinking water standard was a top request of two advocacy groups invited to speak at the event. Fran Silva-Blayney, with the Sierra Club Fountain Creek Water Sentinels, said the regulation can only happen by considering all perfluorinated compounds — which number in the thousands — rather than addressing them individually, as is currently the case.

“We don’t have time to regulate these chemicals one by one,” she said. “Because the … chemicals are toxic, persistent and bio accumulative, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren’s health and lives are at risk.

“We want PFAS chemicals regulated as a family, to protect our families,” added Silva-Blayney, using another acronym for the chemicals.

Brandon Bernard, Widefield’s water manager, argued that merely issuing health advisories, as it has for the past two years, only spurs fear among water customers, while leaving water district managers with fewer resources and less money from the EPA to respond.

“Health advisories have the same effect and repercussions as maximum contaminant levels, but with none of the support,” Bernard said.

Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette

Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette