The bill that bans the kind of firefighting foam that has contaminated water supplies in southern El Paso County has cleared the House and is on its way to the Senate.
House Bill 1279 is sponsored by a bipartisan quartet of El Paso County lawmakers, including its House sponsors, Democratic Rep. Tony Exum and Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf. In the Senate, the bill’s sponsors are Democratic Sen. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs and Republican Sen. Dennis Hisey of Fountain.
The bill would ban Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Such chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base and have been found in the contaminated Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain.
The foam was sprayed on the ground and used for years in a firefighting training area that was flushed into the Colorado Springs Utilities treatment system, which was ill-equipped to remove the chemicals. The effluent ended up in Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield aquifer.
The Air Force has since replaced that foam with a new version that the military says is less toxic and more environmentally friendly, though it still contains perfluorinated chemicals.
Under the bill, fire departments would be banned from using such foam for training exercises beginning Aug. 2. A first offense would result in a $5,000 fine, with the fine rising to $10,000 for subsequent offenses. Firefighters’ protective gear would be barred from containing the chemicals.
House Bill 1279 was amended by the House on Wednesday to address concerns by the Department of Defense, according to Exum. As amended, the bill’s restrictions do not apply to circumstances where the foam is allowed by federal law or required for military purposes.
The amended bill also allows for its use at “gasoline or special fuel storage or distribution facilities that are supplied by pipelines, vessels or refineries,” and tank farms.
This bill “is a start to help clean up some of our bad drinking water, and a start to keeping our firefighters safer,” Exum said.
“But that’s not to say these issues won’t be found elsewhere,” Landgraf added.
“Everything in our water system ends up running together,” said Democratic Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, who noted that the water from Fountain winds up in the Arkansas River and in the farmlands of her district.