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One-third of Colorado water utilities haven’t tested for toxic “forever chemicals.” Here’s who has

By Kati Weis

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    COLORADO (KCNC) — About one-third of Colorado’s municipalities and counties have not tested for toxic “forever chemicals” in their water supply.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or “PFAS,” can cause a host of health issues and CBS News Colorado has reported extensively on their impact and efforts throughout the state and country to limit their presence in drinking water.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency established new legal limits for some PFAS compounds — something the EPA said it would do a year earlier, to give water utilities time to prepare. Regardless, about 300 of the 900 water districts in Colorado still haven’t started testing for PFAS, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

In Aurora, the city has been working on testing and mitigating its PFAS levels for a few years.

The city has managed to get its PFAS levels below the EPA’s new legal limits, by utilizing a granulated activated carbon filtration method and by changing out the carbon filters more frequently.

“We feel really comfortable and confident that we can look our customers straight in the eye and say, we’re going to protect public health, and it’s always going to be safe for you to drink our water,” said Kevin Linder, Advanced Water Treatment Specialist for Aurora Water.

Linder says the city also reduced its overall PFAS levels by shutting off some of its source wells containing higher PFAS levels. He says city water officials plan to build an additional treatment facility in the coming years so they can begin using those wells again.

“We are in the process of designing a treatment plant or treatment system just for those wells that had the higher levels,” Linder said. “The more sources we have, I think the more resilient we can be.”

For the other water districts who have yet to get on board with the EPA’s new regulations, the CDPHE says they have until 2026 to start testing, and 2029 to begin implementing solutions.

In Colorado, around 900 public water systems will be required to test for PFAS to comply with the new PFAS rule. To date, we have assisted over 600 public water systems with PFAS testing and will continue these proactive efforts in advance of the new rule’s implementation.

The fact that so many have tested is great. Most systems do not have PFAS values that exceed EPA’s new standards. Now that we have a final rule, we will be doing extensive outreach and training to help our water providers understand rule compliance and the benefits of testing early to access available state and federal funding sooner and have more time to implement solutions if needed. We can support water systems that haven’t been tested yet through our PFAS grant program. Our goal is to provide technical and financial assistance to as many public water systems as possible to help them comply with the rule before EPA’s deadline.

Most water systems that have tested for PFAS do not have levels above the new standards set by EPA. For those with issues, CDPHE developed the PFAS grant program and has assisted almost 30 impacted water systems with pilot testing or installing water treatment, providing emergency assistance for affected communities, and paying for water systems to test for PFAS. In 2022 and 2023, we awarded $7.6 million in grant funding to help our communities proactively identify and reduce public exposure to PFAS chemicals.

n 2024, the department will award another $5-6 million in grant funding. The federal funding sources will provide additional resources to conduct pilot testing or treatment technologies, planning and design grants for treatment, and treatment infrastructure. In addition, EPA awarded CDPHE $85 million dollars over two years in the Emerging Contaminants for Small and Disadvantaged Communities Grant program. In addition to the Emerging Contaminants grant program mentioned above, federal funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding has awarded Colorado $106 million in drinking water revolving and water pollution control funds for 2024. These BIL funds support a range of activities that includes addressing emerging contaminant issues and PFAS-related projects through supplemental funding and State Revolving Fund direct project awards.

As mentioned above, different groups of funds are available to help water systems with PFAS treatment costs.

How long do districts have until enforcement actions can be taken against them for not complying with the new regulations? What will happen to the districts who are not in compliance?

The new rule requires public water systems to test for PFAS beginning in 2026. Water systems must also provide the public with information on the levels of these PFAS in their drinking water. Public water systems have until 2029 to implement solutions (if necessary) to meet the new PFAS standards. After that, CDPHE will issue violations and take enforcement actions as needed to secure public health protection and compliance. CDPHE’s goal is to get ahead of this by utilizing the tools outlined above to help the water systems that need to take action now.

What’s your message to residents who may be concerned about the safety of their water until their district tests and mitigates?

People concerned with possible PFAS levels in their communities can review our dashboard, which displays information about PFAS test results across Colorado.

We have also developed numerous educational materials to help people understand and act on potential PFAS exposure.

If you are concerned about PFAS, you can reduce exposure by using at-home water filters or using an alternate source of water for drinking and cooking.

While many at-home water filters exist, they haven’t all been certified to remove PFAS. Look for manufacturers that have demonstrated the water filter can remove PFAS to non-detectable levels. Examples to consider include: Purefast Pitcher Filter Cartridge Aquasana Claryum Countertop Hydroviv under sink filter Zero water faucet mount Various Samsung and LG refrigerator filters are also certified to remove PFOS/PFOA certified Learn more about in-home water treatment systems Look for bottled water that has been treated with reverse osmosis. CDPHE cannot verify that all bottled water is below PFAS health advisories. Reverse osmosis is a treatment that removes PFAS, so we suggest choosing a brand that includes this information on the label. Treating water with reverse osmosis removes fluoride, and bottled water usually does not contain it. If you choose bottled or treated water, talk to your dentist about other ways to get fluoride to protect oral health. Bottled water negatively impacts the environment. At the end of the day, these districts are having to pay a lot of money to clean up someone else’s mess. Any comment or plans you can provide about future enforcement or regulation changes on facilities, industries, or businesses discharging waste containing PFAS?

We completed our stakeholder engagement effort and are now finalizing our 2024 PFAS Action Plan , which outlines how we will holistically address PFAS contamination moving forward. So far, we have taken many steps towards addressing PFAS contamination.

The Water Quality Control Commission’s Policy 20-1 adds PFAS testing requirements and discharge limits to permits for facilities that discharge PFAS to lakes and streams. We require that any releases of PFOA or PFOS at a facility under a hazardous waste permit or corrective action order be investigated, cleaned up, or otherwise remediated. We developed regulations with stakeholders for anyone using firefighting foam containing PFAS to prevent new releases of PFAS in accordance with House Bill 22-1345. Our PFAS Takeback Program has taken almost 18 thousand gallons of firefighting foam containing PFAS out of service from our fire departments so we can safely dispose of it and expanded the program to include our commercial service airports. We coordinate with the Department of Defense to determine the extent of PFAS contamination and ensure adequate protection of Colorado’s resources and impacted communities. We also support facilities doing voluntary testing and cleanup through our PFAS Grant Program and Voluntary Cleanup and Redevelopment Program. The sales and distribution ban on certain products that contain PFAS from House Bill 22-1345 will decrease the public’s exposure to PFAS and lessen the amount of PFAS entering our state’s ecosystem.

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