Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn sites on 'forever chemicals' list

Luke Zarzecki
lzarzecki@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/17/22

Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, Thornton's Ascent Solar and Westminster's Ambassador Printing are all sites called out in a new interactive map that identifies places across the country …

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Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn sites on 'forever chemicals' list

Posted

Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, Thornton's Ascent Solar and Westminster's Ambassador Printing are all sites called out in a new interactive map that identifies places across the country contaminated by "forever chemicals."

“Our goal was to respond to what we see as a big undercount of contamination sites,” said Alissa Cordner, a senior author on the paper and co-director of Boston’s Northeastern University PFAS Project Lab, creators of the new map.

The map calls out places that have tested positive for having PFAS onsite as well as "presumption contamination" from things such as firefighting foam and industrial chemicals. The sites in Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster are all listed among the sites with presumed contamination.

“There are hundreds of identified PFAS sites in New Hampshire, it's not necessarily that New Hampshire has the most cross-contamination, probably the most testing,” she said. 

She said the tool's purpose is to provide regulators, decision-makers and public health officials more information regarding potential risks to their communities.  Places with contamination or presumptive contamination do not imply direct exposure or ingestion. 

“They could be talking to those companies about the practices they're using and the chemicals they're using in their operations,” she said. 

Defining presumptive contamination

The university's database keeps track of where testing was done as well as presumptive contamination sources. Cordner, who is also an associate professor at Whitman College, said the study takes into account other academic research and regulatory processes in the U.S. that have identified sources of contamination from certain industries.

That’s where presumed contamination comes in, she said. An area where firefighting foam has been discharged or industrial facilities with waste that contains PFAS are considered presumptive. 

Cordner said PFAS contamination is likely a bigger problem than the database shows because of data limitations. Colorado's own testing data shows that the chemicals are prevalent.

PFAS in Colorado

In 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment tested 400 Colorado water systems, 15 firefighting districts and 43 streams and found 34% of drinking water systems tested had some level of PFAS in the water. 

A 2020 survey from the Colorado Health Department found 71 surface water samples had concentrations as high as 257 parts per trillion for 18 different kinds of PFAS. 

The state health department released a report in April indicating that bodies of water in El Paso, Adams and Jefferson counties were contaminated with PFAS. CDPHE collected 49 fish representing 10 different species from Willow Springs Pond in El Paso County, Tabor Lake in Jefferson County and Mann-Nyholt Lake at Adams County's Riverdale Regional Park. They found PFAS in 100% of the fish they collected. 

Cordner said her model is designed to be conservative. The industries considered presumptive are probably contaminated with PFAS, she said. 

“We know that some dry cleaning operations are sources of PFAS contamination. However, we don't feel confident that every single (dry cleaning) facility that might be included in our nationwide database are necessarily going to be using and emitting PFAS,” Cordner said.

She hopes the map helps municipalities attempting to address some of the root contamination sources of drinking water.  The map could help find those sources, she said.

The tool comes as municipalities, specifically Thornton, may need to upgrade their water treatment plants to remove PFAS from the water. The Environmental Protection Agency released a new advisory on June 15, setting a limit at 0.0004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS.

According to Thornton spokesperson Todd Barnes, updating and upgrading water treatment plants to detect the new levels – should the health advisory turn into regulations – will be costly. He noted that most scientific equipment can't detect levels that low.

Westminster Spokesperson Andy Le said the city has not detected PFAS water contamination and has received no direction from CDPHE to notify the community. The same is true with Northglenn, city representative Diana Wilson said. 

PFAS are forever chemicals, meaning once they enter the human body, they don’t leave.

University of Colorado Professor John Adgate, noted that PFAS take a long time to break down.  Adgate works in the college's of Department of Environmental & Occupational Health, the Center for Health, Work & Environment and the college's Cancer Center.

Adgate referenced the National Academy of Science’s recent report on guidance for PFAS, which found evidence that they decrease antibody response, abnormal blood cholesterol levels, decreased infant and fetal growth and increased risk of kidney cancer in adults.

His study also found limited evidence for an increased risk of breast cancer in adults, liver enzyme alteration in adults and children, increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, increased risk of testicular cancer in adults, thyroid disease and dysfunction in adults and an increased risk of ulcerative colitis in adults.

“I’d never use the word safe to describe this,” he said. “Everything comes with a risk. The goal should be to get the levels as low as possible. ”

PFAS, drinking water, pollution

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