PFAS “forever chemicals” may seep into Colorado’s water from 501 sites, analysis finds

Toxic “forever chemicals” likely are used and discharged into water at 501 sites in Colorado and at least 29,900 across the United States, according to a new analysis by an environmental advocacy nonprofit.

The Environmental Working Group unveiled the analysis Wednesday as the Environmental Protection Agency considers setting regulatory limits for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Lawmakers also are pushing for limits on PFAS discharges in wastewater.

According to the EWG’s analysis of federal documents and data, PFAS may be released from tens of thousands of sewage treatment plants, landfills, petroleum facilities, electronic parts factories, mines, metal plating shops and car washes. Previously, EWG researchers had estimated 2,500 sites across the U.S. based on company self-reported pollution data.

An interactive map by EWG shows industry sites that are known to or are suspected of making, using or discharging PFAS. Colorado’s 501 is more than twice the number in each of seven other Rocky Mountain states, and more than the 193 facilities that voluntarily disclosed their storage and use of PFAS chemicals in a 2020 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment  survey.

The EWG-identified sites are scattered beyond the areas south of Colorado Springs, in north metro Denver and west of Boulder where tests over the past five years of groundwater and public drinking water detected PFAS contamination. (A federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry blood-sampling study south of Colorado Springs in 2019 found chemicals at levels up to eight times above national norms.)

EWG’s map shows possible PFAS chemicals discharges at a car wash in Monument, a petroleum bulk station in Durango, a landfill in Custer County, a sewage treatment facility in Fort Collins, an electronic parts maker in Grand Junction, a chemical factory in Greeley and a printing ink plant in Colorado Springs.

“Anytime we learn of or hear that PFAS is being discharged into our environment, we’re concerned,” said Trisha Oeth, Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment’s director of environmental policy and acting director of water quality. “We appreciate the work other organizations have done to find out where these chemicals are so that we can start taking the right steps to inform, educate and reduce Coloradans’ exposure.”

This year, EPA officials proposed possible regulatory limits and formal designation of PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) as hazardous, as well as increasing the tracking of 1,000 PFAS chemicals the government approved for commercial use. In March, the EPA identified industries “likely to be discharging PFAS in wastewater.”

PFAS chemicals are man-made, nonstick, waterproof, stain-resistant compounds used in several things, from carpets to firefighting foam. A growing body of research links exposure to PFAS to health issues like cancer, birth defects, weakened immunity and kidney trouble.

To learn more about PFAS, see The Post’s Q&A.

Congressional lawmakers have proposed setting discharge limits under the Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act, which is part of the bipartisan infrastructure investment that has passed the House. Colorado business leaders haven’t taken a position on possible federal regulations.

“We haven’t been hearing about this from any of our members,” Denver Metro Chamber spokeswoman Jennifer Beck said. “The chamber and its members advocate strongly for the health of Coloradans and our state’s environment.”

The EPA in 2016 issued a health advisory warning that just two chemicals used in the foam, out of more than 9,000 known PFAS chemicals, can cause harm at levels as low as 70 parts per trillion.

“If we’re going to address the PFAS crisis in Colorado and other states, the first step is to turn off the tap … Until the EPA uses the power Congress gave 50 years ago to put limits on those discharges, we are simply going to be making a big problem bigger,” EWG senior vice president Scott Faber said.

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