COMMERCE CITY, Colo – Contaminants thought to be linked to low birth weight, diabetes and behavior problems are turning up in Commerce City’s water supply.
Residents, who are leery about drinking the water, say they now have another reason not to.
"It's foul tasting," said Debbie Davis. "I don't know another way to put it. It's just awful. I don't even like doing my laundry in it."
The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District has 12 wells in the area bounded by Quebec Street, I-270 and 96th Avenue.
High levels of PFC contamination have been found in several of them.
“We’re seeing levels ranging between 20 parts per trillion and 2,200 parts per trillion,” said Jim Jones, the utility’s general manager.
The EPA’s health advisory standard is 70 parts per trillion.
“We are concerned,” Jones said. “We want to get a better feel for what we’re actually dealing with.”
Jones told Denver7 they don’t know where the contamination is coming from, nor do they know yet whether levels are increasing or decreasing.
“We’ve got very preliminary information at this point,” he said. “We don’t know how these compounds may be moving through the aquifer. Do they move in slugs, or do they just move gradually through there? We’re going to have to get more information to try to figure that out.”
Testing Began in 2013
The utility's GM said they began testing in 2013 and 2014 as part of the EPA’s UCMR3 (Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule) process.
UCMR 3 required monitoring for 30 contaminants (28 chemicals and two viruses) between 2013 and 2015, to protect public health.
“All those samples came back below detection level,” he said.
Is drinking water safe?
When asked if the water supply was safe, Jones replied, “Right now, our treated water supplies are below the EPA’s health advisory standard, so we’re glad about that, but we’re looking at whether we can improve the filtering system.”
He said the carbon currently being used at the treatment plant is more suited for volatile organic compounds that were associated with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and other industrial sites.
“We’re working with engineers to look at the carbon treatment alternatives to make sure we identify the best carbon available for these (PFC) compounds.”
Jones said the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District has shut down the most contaminated wells and has an agreement to purchase water from Denver Water on an intermediate basis.
“That helps us make sure that we keep those levels as low as possible,” he said.
Concerns about private wells
State health officials say South Adams County Water has taken the steps necessary to protect its customers.
They say they don’t know yet if any private wells adjacent to the district are contaminated. They’re encouraging people on private wells to work with Tri-County Health to get their water tested.
CDPHE says it will work with the EPA to assess activity that could have led to this contamination.
It's not known how long that process might take.
PFCs sometimes cling to soil, so it might be harder to trace where they're coming from.