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Our Contaminated Drinking Water: 3 Questions

Contaminated drinking water. Right in our own backyard. And probably in yours, too.

Unregulated, toxic chemicals linked to cancer in our wells. Perflourinated chemicals (PFCs), specifically.

Ever persistent, PFCs don’t break down and they don’t boil off.

Prolonged PFC exposure is linked to:

  • developmental damage to fetuses during pregnancy
  • low birth weight
  • accelerated puberty and distorted bones
  • kidney and testicular cancer
  • liver tissue damage
  • impaired production of antibodies
  • cholesterol changes

That PFCs are in our drinking water begs questions. I’ve got 3.

[UPDATE July 25, 2017] The Denver Post: “Air Force admits firefighting foam that was spilled on base contaminated water and soil; people south of Colorado Springs left in lurch


Our Contaminated Drinking Water in Colorado

And 80,000 people in Security, Widefield, and Fountain – the south end of Colorado Springs – are under advisory. Again. This one is from a test in May 2016. Similar results were found in October 2015.

Tests detected elevated levels of PFCs in all 32 of their wells. One well tested at 20x the EPA’s “health advisory” limit for PFCs (1,300ppt vs 70ppt).

Sources of chemicals found include those from firefighting foam, metal degreasing, dry cleaning, antibiotics, hormones, anti-depressants, and pesticides. PFCs are also found in carpet, clothes, food packaging, and Teflon non-stick coating.

Pregnant women and small children have been told not to drink the water.

Run off from military airfields has been suggested as the most likely culprit in this case. The Air Force is investigating.

[UPDATE July 6, 2016: Air Force doesn’t admit fault, but does provide $4.3 million for temporary water treatment – Story]

How common is this? Pretty common.

The EPA has found elevated levels of PFCs 4,864 public water systems in the United States. They expect 5,000,000 people in 33 states are drinking water contaminated with PFCs.

creek, water, flow, Buffalo Canyon, Colorado Springs, contaminated water, drinking water

Buffalo Canyon Creek feeds Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs


Question 1. Why Should Anyone Drink Contaminated Water?

If it’s not safe for pregnant women and small children, why should we regard it as safe for anyone?

PFCs are toxic and cancer-causing. No one should be drinking them – especially at elevated levels.


2. Where’s the Precautionary Principle?

“‘That’s part of the problem,’ said Roy Heald, with the Security Water District. ‘These chemicals are so new, there’s not really a lot of information out there on that.'”

The precautionary principle advises that we not make available to our groundwater and drinking water supply chemicals whose effects are not known.

In short: safety first.
But: $$$.

Perflourinated chemicals are unregulated. They’re in our water and in our bodies. And we don’t understand the consequences.


3. At What Price “Progress?”

“Perfluorinated compounds are persistent. This isn’t going away for decades. We need to explore our options.” – Fountain utilities director Curtis Mitchell.

What are we doing? Too often, we pit “the environment” against “the economy.” This is a false divide.

Without clean water, clean air, healthy soils, and biodiversity what do we have? What are we building – and why? At what price “progress?”

Our natural capital is the primary economy. The rest falls out from there.

“’We’re looking at treatment over the long term because I think over the long term it’s going to be decades or maybe even generations before these chemicals work their way through the aquifer,’ said Heald.”

Fortunately, in the words from one of my favorite books, “Harm done on an industrial scale could be reduced on an industrial scale” (Yvon Chouinard, The Responsible Company).

It’s easy to see words like industrial and blame bloated governments or greedy companies. But it’s also on us.

How you spend your money is more important than your periodic vote.

Cheyenne Creek, Colorado Springs, Colorado, water, flow, creek, contamination, pollution

Cheyenne Creek feeds Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs


There is No “Away”

Throwing things “away.” Flushing things “away.” Washing things “away.”

An illusion. There is no “away.” This is it. Our water, air, soil, flora, and fauna are all connected.

To us. And us to them.


Source Material

The most complete story: The Denver Post
Drinking water in three Colorado cities contaminated with toxic chemicals above EPA limits

Also helpful:,,

[UPDATE July 25, 2017] The Denver Post: “Air Force admits firefighting foam that was spilled on base contaminated water and soil; people south of Colorado Springs left in lurch

The photos: from my Flickr stream

Featured image: Fountain Creek in Manitou Springs, upstream from the contamination



Catamount Creek, Fountain Creek, water, Colorado Springs, Colorado, contaminated water, water pollution, PFCs, chemicals

Catamount Creek feeds Fountain Creek in Ute Pass near Colorado Springs




  1. Gary Turk

    For years all I’ve heard is blame. Unfortunately, blaming the next company in line does nothing to protect the people in our water districts. I’ve lived in my Zone 1 home for 36 years and I’ve been mysteriously handicapped and totally disabled for 27 of those years. My wife, whose family has zero history of cancer developed Breast Cancer 28 years ago. Are we both victims of PFC poisoning? Today I saw an article that the US Air Force is going to allocate $4.3 million to search for the source and eradicate the PFC at it’s source. They did not push the blame off to another company nor did they accept the blame someone had pushed upon them. This is the first time somebody said, let’s find out why and take care of it. Thank You Air Force for your action. This is all I have ever expected should have happened when the water was found to be contaminated. Until now, nobody has ever taken any favorable action, particularly the water districts. They’ve acted as if they have no obligation to provide clear, clean, uncontaminated water. Isn’t that something we should be able to expect from our water district?

  2. Ethan Beute

    Hey, Gary. Thanks for reading and commenting. I saw the AF story yesterday; I appreciate that they accepted blame (without admitting fault). Very best to both you and your wife.

    Gazette story:

    More info on PFCs & water treatment:

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