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EDITORIAL: Congress needs to investigate Air Force over toxic foam

By: The Gazette editorial board
November 14, 2017 Updated: November 14, 2017 at 10:52 am
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Contamination of water by toxic firefighting foam is more than a public relations dilemma for the Air Force. It is a daily, never-ending health concern for people who fear they have consumed dangerous water for decades.

Congress needs to get involved, by holding a special hearing to investigate the health crisis and determine how to avoid similar problems.

As explained in stories by Gazette senior military reporter Tom Roeder, the Air Force used the foam in training at Peterson since the 1970s. It also used the foam at installations throughout the country, causing widespread concerns of public health ramifications.

Chemicals leached from foam caused alarm locally in Security, Widefield and Fountain in 2016 after officials advised against consuming water from the Widefield Aquifer after the EPA tightened its guidance.

The compounds have been linked to cancer, kidney and liver ailments, high cholesterol, and more. The EPA set the safe level of the contaminants at 70 parts per trillion. Tests found the Widefield aquifer carried more than double the safe concentration, at 164 parts per trillion.

The Air Force stopped using the foam in 2016, which might have been decades late.

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Air Force officials say service has no authority to reimburse.

Studies dating back decades showed dangers.

The agency began studying potentially negative effects in the 1970s.

The Army Corps of Engineers told Army officials at Fort Carson to stop using the compound in 1991 and in 1997 told the post to treat it as a hazardous material. The EPA called for a phaseout of perfluorinated compounds in 2000, claiming they were "likely to be carcinogenic to humans."

Reaction by military officials and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has underwhelmed. The Air Force has no plan to provide blood tests for residents or service members who may have suffered exposure to the chemical, saying no state officials have suggested they do so.

The apparent lack of urgency means elected federal officials should get more involved. The Air Force is a branch of the U.S. military under control of Congress and the president.

Republicans among Colorado's congressional delegation should consider asking majority leadership to call for a congressional hearing to determine why the Air Force continued using a toxic substance for years after learning it could have serious public health consequences.

The hearings should not focus on outing responsible parties and holding them accountable. Blame for this is dispersed, widespread and involves people who have come and gone over decades.

Congress should investigate this with the goal of ensuring the best possible recovery of water, the best care for those who may have been harmed, and the best course of action for avoiding prolonged use of dangerous compounds in the future.

The Air Force is an extraordinary part of Colorado Springs, the Pikes Peak region, and all of Colorado. It has done far more good than harm. That is of little comfort to those who suffer or may suffer the effects of toxic foam that should have been banished long ago.

The people of Security, Widefield and Fountain deserve solutions, answers and hope for a safer future. Congress should begin addressing their concerns.

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