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US Air Force Academy Finds Elevated Toxic Chemical Levels in Groundwater

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The US Air Force Academy revealed Thursday that unsafe levels of toxic chemicals were detected in groundwater at four locations in the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The chemicals found include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These synthetic chemicals, not naturally found in the environment, are quickly absorbed by the human body if ingested and accumulate in the blood, kidneys and liver, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The four unidentified sites at the academy had chemical concentrations higher than 70 parts per trillion, which the EPA has determined to be the safe threshold. 

“The Air Force Civil Engineer Center confirmed that groundwater samples from several areas on the Academy were found to be above the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) levels of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water,” a Thursday press release by the academy reads.

Toxicology studies reveal that the chemicals can have negative developmental, reproductive and systemic effects. The chemicals are found in military firefighting foam used to extinguish petroleum fires, as well as in fast food wrappers and carpet cleaners. The same toxic chemicals were also recently found to have polluted a southern El Paso County aquifer in Colorado, which serves more than 64,000 people 20 miles to the south of the base and has cost tens of millions of dollars to address, according to multiple reports. 

Air Force Academy officials also confirmed this week plans to test drinking water wells south of the academy near Woodmen Valley in Colorado Springs, Stars & Stripes reported. However, officials also announced that the drinking water at the academy, which is supplied by Colorado Springs Utilities, had not been contaminated by the chemicals.

Col. Brian Hartless, 10th Air Base Wing commander, still expressed concern over the potential effect the chemicals may have on drinking water sources. 

“We share community concerns about the possible impact past use of these chemicals may have on human drinking water sources,” Hartless said. “We will work closely with AFCEC [The Air Force Civil Engineer Center] to protect human health and conduct a thorough inspection to ensure safe drinking water.”

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