San Juan Basin Public Health Announces Free Well Testing for ‘Perpetual Chemicals’ – The Durango Herald

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will provide funding for PFAS testing

San Juan Basin Public Health is accepting applications to test private wells for PFAS, or “perpetual chemicals.” PFAS are found in a wide variety of consumer, commercial, and industrial products and have been linked to several serious human health effects. (Durango Herald file)

The San Juan Basin Public Health Department has begun soliciting applications from private well owners to test their water for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, or “perpetual chemicals.”

The department first opened applications in October for testing, though it wasn’t fully ready to proceed until last week. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provided $10,000 to SJBPH to conduct outreach, while CDPHE will directly pay for sampling and testing.

PFAS refers to thousands of chemicals commonly used in a wide range of consumer, commercial and industrial products. Chemicals offer great utility because they can be used to produce products that are resistant to heat, oil, stains, grease and water. However, the characteristics that make them so useful also mean that they don’t break down easily in the natural environment, causing them to circulate through dirt, water, air and even wildlife. Although research into specific health effects is ongoing, studies have linked PFAS to a variety of problems, including increased risk of certain cancers, developmental problems, and reduced immune response.

A state law will go into effect in 2024 banning the sale of many consumer products that contain PFAS.

SJBPH Environmental Health Director Brian Devine said he hopes well owners will sign up for the testing as soon as possible.

“The more people we can get signed up now or by Dec. 8, we can get that list out to the contractors and they can make a big sampling push in December,” Devine said. “… The faster people sign up for this, the faster they’ll get their test results.”

There is no limit to the number of wells that can be tested using the grant’s resources, Devine said. However, the department hopes to run tests efficiently by doing as many of them as possible at the same time. The grant expires in June 2023.

CDPHE is funding PFAS testing across the state, Devine said. Agency representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The intent is to target high-risk areas located near places where PFAS may have been used or stored, including airports, landfills and some fire stations.

Devine said people living near the Durango-La Plata County Airport should consider testing their wells, as should those living near current or former landfills.

“We hope everyone gets tested,” Devine said. “If we can get every well user in Archuleta and La Plata counties to test, I will be extremely happy. But we’re focusing on some of these facilities and there’s a pretty wide buffer zone around them just because of the way groundwater works.”

Devine also emphasized that the department is not pointing fingers at any facilities that may have used these chemicals, given that they are so ubiquitous in a wide range of products and have been used since the 1940s.

PFAS are specifically linked to certain types of firefighting foam, and CDPHE announced a “buyback” program in 2021 to prevent qualified fire departments from continuing to use foam containing the chemicals. The Durango Fire Protection District said it will participate in the program.

Firefighting foam, pictured here, used in a 2014 County Road 230 fire typically contains PFAS. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment started a buyback program in 2021 to help phase out the use of foam. (Durango Herald file)

The state is undertaking an extensive mapping effort to help the public understand where PFAS hazards may be located.

“I hope people get tested because this is really the first opportunity to do this kind of testing in private wells on a broad basis,” Devine said. “There has been some groundwater testing in other parts of Colorado, but that has been associated with specific sources of concern or even some contamination. But because they’re so widely used and don’t break down easily in the environment, we also have to do these larger-scale or more wide-ranging testing programs.

CDPHE has emergency grants available for well owners who find that PFAS levels exceed EPA limits.

The local public health department will hold an information session from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on December 8 at the Durango Public Library. Additional sessions in both counties will be announced soon.

Anyone interested in being tested can contact the department at [email protected] or 335-2060.

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