DENVER -- An Air Force base in Colorado said Tuesday it accidentally released about 150,000 gallons of water containing toxic chemicals into the sewer system of the adjacent city of Colorado Springs, but the potential health hazards weren’t immediately known.
Peterson Air Force Base said the water contained perfluorinated compounds or PFCs, which have been linked to prostate, kidney and testicular cancer, along with other illnesses. The Air Force hasn’t said how high the levels were.
The chemicals didn’t get into the city’s drinking water, said Steve Berry, a spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities.
CBS Colorado Springs affiliate KKTV reports that releasing the water isn’t an easy task.
“There is at least two valves that have to be turned on, and the electrical control for this is above ground,” base environmental chief Fred Brooks told reporters. “That’s separate from that, so it’s at least a three-step process.”
The tainted water passed through a wastewater treatment plant, but the plant isn’t set up to remove PFCs, so they were still in the water when it was discharged into Fountain Creek, Berry said.
No communities take water directly from the creek downstream from the treatment plant, said Meghan Trubee, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The Air Force said the tainted water was released from a storage tank sometime in the past week, but the cause of the leak was still under investigation. It was discovered during a routine inspection of the tank on Oct. 12.
PFCs are a component of firefighting foam widely used by the military, including at Peterson. The holding tank was part of a system used to recirculate the water to a fire training area, officials said.
The Air Force is already investigating whether Peterson is the source of PFC contamination found in well water in two other nearby communities, the town of Fountain and an unincorporated community called Security-Widefield.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in August it was highly likely that Peterson was the source of the PFCs in the two communities, although it hasn’t been determined exactly how it got into the underground water.
The Air Force agreed to pay for filters and monitoring wells for the water systems.
Trubee said Tuesday that state officials were aware of the latest discharge of PFC-contaminated water from the Air Force base and were awaiting more information from the military. “The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing PFC contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide,” Trubee said in a written statement.