November 15, 2016
Since 1991, the U.S. Air Force Academy has been dumping toxic chemicals into Fountain Creek three times per year.
This has contaminated the ground water in Security, Colo. with a group of compounds known as perfluorinated chemicals. Exposure to these chemicals is known to cause cancer and other health-related issues.
Janel Owens, associate chemistry professor, is involved in a UCCS study of the ground water at Venetucci Farm, a pumpkin patch located in Security.
The study of the ground water is being conducted to see if the levels of PFCs in the water meet EPA regulations.
“In surveying for PFCs, we are surveying a large class of compounds that were widely used in Scotchgard (items), non-stick cookware and other stuff like that,” said Owens.
“What is interesting about PFCs is they are really useful for different applications because they are non-stick, but until this summer the regulation of these chemicals in commerce was difficult.”
The results of the study done at Venetucci Farm have revealed an elevated level of two compounds that the EPA regulates: perfluorooctanoic acids and perfluorooctane sulfonates.
“The regulatory health limit of (PFOAs and PFOSs) is 70 nanograms per liter,” said Owens.
This is a very miniscule amount, according to Owens. In one liter of water, 70 nanograms of PFCs would be equal to 70 millionth out of 1 billionth of a gram. One liter of water is equal to 1,000 grams.
The School of Mines, who started this investigation, has also confirmed these findings.
“That’s great because it shows that two labs utilizing different instruments and different samples are getting the same results.”
Owens said she is not sure how to fix the problem or the extent of the damage.
“We don’t know where all the ground water is or how deep it is. Perhaps we could pump it up and filter it, but that is expensive,” said Owens.
The compounds will not decay naturally anytime soon.
“(Chemists) are saying that these chemicals are redefining what we mean when we say a chemical is long-lasting,” said Owens. “We use chemicals without really understanding what their long term impacts may be.”
While expensive, residents of Security had clean water restored to their homes.
“(Residents) have switched their water supply to surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir. Because of this change, water is more expensive, but people are getting access to clean water.”
Water is not the only concern for Security or the larger community.
“What we are worried about now is if you are using these ground water sources at a farm, what does this mean in terms of the impact? In short, we don’t know,” said Owens.
“We are finding levels in the water that are being sprayed into the soil, so we ask, ‘how do plants absorb these compounds? Do they absorb it through the root or through the leaf?’ I don’t know.”