City formalizes PFAS test standards
Last updated 9/2/2020 at 12:57pm
Four years ago area residents found out their groundwater was contaminated with dangerous chemicals from firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base. Overnight, terms like "PFAS" became part of the region's vocabulary while families learned of health problems that may have been caused or worsened by the toxic compounds.
Today, despite numerous actions taken to provide clean, treated water, many people still wonder, "Is my drinking water really safe?"
With that in mind, the city of Fountain has formalized its own commitment to rigorous testing of treated groundwater to ensure levels of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are well under the permissible limits. Last Tuesday, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution officially establishing a city groundwater treatment standard of less than 2 parts per trillion (ppt) – the level at which PFCs become non-detectable.
While the city – and any other water providers – are required to adhere to certain standards, Fountain's agreement to such had not been in writing. It also exceeds other government standards.
"It's no longer just a verbal agreement," Utilities Director Dan Blankenship said. "It transcends utility directors; it transcends City Council members."
"This is Fountain's commitment to the community that our water standards go above and beyond the Air Force's standards," added John Trylch, the city's communications manager.
Blankenship, who took over the reins of Fountain Utilities a few months ago, said the current standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 70 ppt. The most recent tests of untreated groundwater here were in the 50-60 ppt range, already under the legal limit. However, weekly testing on water after it goes though the city's Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) units consistently results in non-detectable levels, or under 2 ppt.
"We feel it's important to be transparent," he said. "There could very well be none in there, but we can't say that with certainty."
"To our knowledge, there is no scientific way to test below 2 ppt," Trylch added.
Testing is conducted by an independent certified laboratory. Other tests look for levels of numerous other substances, such as lead, arsenic and fluoride. Levels are listed in the annual Water Quality Report, which is distributed to customers and also available on the city's website.
In addition, city officials are confident their partners at the Fountain Valley Water Authority (which treats surface water) and Widefield Water and Sanitation District (with whom Fountain has an exchange agreement) are meeting all treatment and testing demands so that any water Fountain may get from them is also safe.
Blankenship noted that weekly testing of the treated groundwater does come at a cost. The Air Force only pays for monthly tests. So far, the consensus has been that Fountain water users want the extra assurance from weekly tests, so the financial burden is reflected in their rates. He said the city might consider reducing the frequency if people wanted that.
After the initial contamination announcement in 2016, Widefield Water was the first to implement an ion exchange treatment facility to remove PFCs. Blankenship said ion exchange is the best-known method for removing PFCs from water.
Fountain shut down its wells and switched to other sources until the two GAC units were installed in June 2018, courtesy of the Air Force. Now, work has begun on Fountain's own ion exchange water treatment facility in the northwest corner of Aga Park. The Air Force is paying two-thirds of the $7 million cost. After the facility is complete around January 2021, the city will construct a building for extra protection around it. This center will treat water piped in from four city wells. At that time, the GAC units will no longer be necessary and the city will look for a way to repurpose them, Blankenship said.
The city's new resolution affirms adherence to groundwater treatment standards of less than 2 ppt for six types of PFCs: PFAS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFBS. The existing GAC units already catch all six of these, officials noted.
"Your water is safe to drink," Trylch said. "It's been safe to drink for years."
Blankenship said that while his department's focus is on Fountain, the utility will continue support legislation and promulgation of standards that will ensure quality water all around, since federal and state actions do affect local supplies.
Fountain's annual water quality reports are sent to customers each year, and they're also available at http://www.fountaincolorado.org/waterquality.
Editor's note: Dan Blankenship just closed on a home in Fountain, and he said he's committed to being a part of this community. "I will be drinking Fountain water, using Fountain electricity," he said.