Update on PFC investigation at Peterson Air Force Base

Published: Nov. 2, 2016 at 10:59 PM MDT
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The Air Force doesn't think wastewater tainted with toxic chemicals was released from a base in Colorado after all.

On Wednesday, the Air Force addressed the massive perfluorinated chemical (PFC) investigation in connection to the firefighting foam they used for decades.

PFCs got into the drinking water in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas.

Across the country, the Air Force is spending $250 million for this investigation. The Department of Defense is estimating they will spend nearly $30 billion to complete the cleanup efforts.

"This is a really big deal for the Air Force," said Mark Correll, deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and infrastructure.

Right now, the Air Force is drilling 17 test sites on base and at the Springs Airport. They're testing the ground soil and water for high levels of PFCs.

The Air Force used the firefighting foam manufactured by 3M for decades. It contained the harmful PFCs and was used to put out jet fuel fires.

It wasn't until recently that that the Air Force discovered the foam was harmful, Correll said.

"We read what the manufacturer says and we do that, and that's what happened until the EPA said 'no, there's a difference here.'"

In October, the Air Force said they accidentally released 150,000 gallons of the water and foam into the Colorado Springs Utilities sewer system. On Wednesday, they said that didn't happen, claiming it was a miscommunication.

Col. Douglas Schiess said Wednesday that 20,000 gallons of wastewater held in an open pit disappeared, but evaporation in hot weather was determined to be the likely culprit, rather than a discharge.

Schiess says that firefighters overestimated how much wastewater was in a storage tank and that, along with miscommunications, led commanders to believe that 150,000 gallons were missing.

The water is moved back and forth between a tank and an open pit as part of fire training.

The EPA confirmed the results of the Air Force's investigation.

"It was determined there was zero criminal wrongdoing and no evidence to support that any water left the fire training pit into the public water system," said Alex Tamayo, Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

The Air Force has already purchased the new firefighting foam. That foam contains PFCs, but they said not harmful ones and not ones that the EPA is concerned about.

The Air Force will be providing bottled water to affected communities, and paying for some filtration systems in a couple dozen homes in our area.