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Thornton files lawsuit over toxic PFAS in water

Thornton files lawsuit over toxic PFAs in water
Thornton files lawsuit over toxic PFAs in water 03:41

The city of Thornton has become one of the first in Colorado to go after the manufacturers of firefighting foam that it believes is the cause of contamination in its water that it will cost millions to mitigate.

The lawsuit has been filed against a long list of manufacturers who produced firefighting foam that contains PFAS, an acronym for perfluoroalkyl substances, that has been getting into water supplies in places like Thornton.

"The science really has been pointing to the kinds of chemicals that were used in the manufacture of the firefighting foam," said Adam Stephens, a deputy city attorney.

Thornton's testing has found PFA levels well above the EPA's advisory levels, which were lowered last year to 0.02 parts per trillion.

"What they didn't tell the consumers," said Stephens, "is that these were persistent chemicals that stuck around in our environment and our bodies."

The chemicals have been blamed for a long list of potential health problems including cancers, reproductive issues and developmental issues in children. Considered at greater risk are women who are pregnant or nursing and young children. Thornton found levels of several dozen parts per trillion in some of its supply and has shut down some of its wells. It is now looking at designing a system that will filter out the chemicals.

"This lawsuit is about recouping the cost that it's going to take the city of for and to remove this these chemicals from our water sources," said Stephens.

The state of Colorado has been asking and helping communities test their water. The State says of 400 water system tests since 2020, about a quarter showed detectible levels of PFAS. That has many of the affected systems considering how to fund removing the contaminants when the EPA puts into place this year its required maximum levels.

"There's a lot of costs involved in this, and it should not be borne by the communities in which these are now found," said Stephens.

Colorado has worked with both systems and people with private wells. In places like Fountain, Security and Widefield near Colorado Springs, foam used at Peterson Air Force Base is believed to have caused high PFA levels in well water. The military helped remediate the cost of alternate sources of water or reverse osmosis filtering that removes the contamination.

Still other communities are not directly affected, but still could have to deal with the problems caused by cleaning PFA contamination.

"I think there are 29 different components of PFAs that we may have to test for," said Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker.

There are additional similar compounds not being tested. Aurora Water has low levels of PFAs due in large part to the fact that its treatment facility just happens to have the type of carbon filtration that filters it out. But Baker wonders what is coming as the EPA looks at setting its standards.

"Now they can test down to parts per trillion with a 't' and some of the health advisory levels from the federal government are having us at parts per quadrillion," Baker said. "What does that mean? We don't know what that means and we can't test to that level. So how do you treat to that level?"

Even if Aurora does not have to change its practices, it could be affected by other water utilities changing theirs.

"They have to install it, the cost of that. We're all competing for the same resources as well," he said in reference to keeping its carbon filtration systems operating.

Pointing out that testing shows PFAs in human blood, he wondered about effects, saying decisions about appropriate levels should be carefully weighed.

"We have to react to the science and not the emotion in this case," Baker said. "Let's remove it from the environment, then we don't have to treat for it."

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