U.S. Air Force officials said Tuesday that the Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs accidentally dumped 150,000 gallons of cancer-linked wastewater into the local sewer system.
The wastewater, spilled about seven days ago, was full of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which have been linked to various forms of cancer and low birth weights, The Denver Post reports.
Airmen use PFCs to extinguish fuel fires, but now the Air Force is putting an end to their use, except in the event of emergencies. PFCs are not federally regulated.
Wastewater made its way from a tank at the base and moved through a wastewater treatment plant before reaching Fountain Creek. Authorities could not prevent the wastewater from reaching the treatment plant. Fountain Creek flows southward to the city of Pueblo and the Arkansas River.
“Even if we would have been able to head it off at the plant, we’re not equipped. I don’t know of any wastewater plants in the country equipped to remove PFCs,” Colorado Springs utilities spokesman Steve Berry told The Denver Post. “We would not have been able to remove that chemical before it was discharged back into the environment from our effluent.”
The Air Force is investigating what caused the tank to discharge that much wastewater.
Meanwhile, elevated cancer rates have been discovered just south of Colorado Springs back in July.
At the time, the Air Force said it was willing to contribute $4.3 million to a water treatment system. The Air Force also stated that this should not be considered an admission of any kind of fault, but also added that it would intensify testing of any of its sources that could have led to contamination.
But the Air Force’s admission on Tuesday, its past contribution to a water treatment and the fact there’s been a serious increase in cancer rates in the region raise questions about whether this spill last week is the first of its kind from the Peterson Air Force base.
“We are going to be expediting testing here on the base to determine a source and the extent of the contamination. … It is just one of those good neighbor gestures,” Maj. William Russell, spokesman for the 21st Space Wing at the Peterson Air Force Base, told The Denver Post in July.
Government data indicates that the Fountain Creek watershed is contaminated with PFCs at a level 20 times higher than recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.
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