Toxic firefighting foam contaminated the water at a Colorado Air Force base, now veterans and residents are coming down with cancer

A Colorado air force base recently came under fire as water contaminated with perfluorinated compounds (PFC) was associated with the onset of various forms of cancer among people living in close proximity to the base. A Daily Mail report noted that former soldiers, firefighters and residents near the Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, were diagnosed with thyroid, prostate, and testicular cancers following direct exposure to water containing the toxic chemicals from firefighting foam.

Just last year, the base admitted that it accidentally released up to 150,000 gallons of water containing the hazardous chemicals into the sewage system. Reports noted that the Air Force so far spent more than $4 million to provide bottled water and filtration systems to the bases. Thousands of firefighters and first responders across the U.S. inferred that exposure to the fire retardant and other firefighting equipment might play a role in the upsurge of cancer cases among the residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stressed that any toxins over 70 parts per trillion found in water pose great threat to the general public’s health. Data from water analysis showed that water samples taken from Colorado Springs contained more than 1,300 parts per trillion. In addition, the agency warned that up to 15 million Americans across 27 states could be exposed to PFCs in their drinking water. (Related: PFCs contaminate 67 percent of New Jersey’s public water systems.)

“What we’re saying is these still are chemicals that have potentially toxic side effects. I’ve got to rely on the Environmental Protection Agency and on the health agencies… to tell us whether or not that’s going to be a problem in the future. We’re going to treat it as if it were any other hazardous material… so that we can prevent contamination in the ground water and in the soil by cleaning it up immediately,” Mark Correll, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environment safety and infrastructure, said in a CBS News article.

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Dennis Pinski, health risk assessment supervisor for New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services, confirmed that the contaminants may raise the odds of various health woes including certain types of cancer.

“Scientific studies have shown exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water to be associated with … developmental effects, decreased bone formation, accelerated puberty in males, reduced newborn body weight, liver toxicity, thyroid effects, immune system effects (and) cancer. The EPA determined that there is ‘suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential’ for both PFOA and PFOS under EPAs 2005 Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment,” Pinski told The Portsmouth Herald online.

“Human studies suggest that PFOA exposure could lead to increased risk for kidney and testicular cancer. Animal studies have indicated that PFOA exposure could result in increased risk of liver, testicular and pancreatic tumors,” Pinski added.

Health experts offer tips to prevent PFC exposure

health information summary published by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) warned that once PFCs enter the body, it would take between two to four years to reduce those levels by half. In line with this, the data sheet listed a few ways in order to prevent PFC exposure. These tips include:

  • On private wells – The agency advised that households using private wells to contact the EPA. The agency also suggested using alternative water sources if PFC levels were higher than the safety guidelines.
  • On public water – The ATSDR suggested conducting routine water testing for public water sources. Likewise, the agency recommended that people contact water filtration device manufacturers to gain more information about how well the devices work on public water sources.
  • On fish consumption – The agency discouraged consuming fish from certain water sources due to high levels pf PFC contamination.

Sources include: [PDF]

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