State health officials announced Tuesday that statewide water sampling found that no treated drinking water tested for toxic fluorochemicals, known as “forever chemicals” due to their pervasive nature, exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level.
But the state did find higher levels of the chemicals, which commonly originate from toxic firefighting foam, in some groundwater sources, a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment news release said.
CDPHE sampled 400 water systems and 15 firefighting districts, as well as 152 groundwater sources and 71 surface water sources like rivers and streams for fluorochemicals, known as PFAS. The sampling included about half of the drinking water systems in the state serving around 75% of Colorado’s population.
“The current results show that no drinking water tested above the EPA health advisory for two chemicals,” said Kristy Richardson, state toxicologist at CDPHE. “At the same time, we know science is evolving, and we are committed to using the most current and best available information to provide health-based guidance on exposure to the chemicals.”
A sample collected at the mouth of Sand Creek in Commerce City tested above the EPA drinking water health advisory, but the state isn’t aware of anyone directly drinking this affected water. Nonetheless, high levels of the chemicals in streams can impact downstream drinking water supplies, state health officials warned.
CDPHE’s testing indicates that industrial operations permitted to discharge wastewater into rivers and streams may play a major role in the buildup of the chemicals. For example, testing Sand Creek upstream of Commerce City yielded a result far lower than a test site of Sand Creek downstream in Aurora, where the PFAS reading exceeded the EPA’s drinking water health advisory level.
The EPA has not set a national regulatory limit for PFAS despite growing evidence of water contamination nationwide and scientific studies linking fluorochemicals to cancers and problems during pregnancy. Last year, groundwater tests found high levels of PFAS across the Denver metro area.
The discovery of these fluorochemicals at Buckley Air Force Base, along Sand Creek and at the Suncor oil refinery in Adams County — as well as at sites west of Boulder and around Colorado Springs — compelled state health officials to ramp up Colorado’s response.