San Juan Basin Public Health announces free well tests for chemicals ‘forever’ – Durango Herald

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

San Juan Basin Public Health is accepting applications to test private wells for PFAS, or “forever chemicals.” PFAS are found in a large number of consumer, commercial and industrial products and have been associated with a number of serious health effects on humans. (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, otherwise known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

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

PFAS refer to thousands of chemicals commonly used in a wide range of consumer, commercial and industrial products. Chemicals provide great utility because they can be used to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. However, the characteristics that make them so useful also mean that they do not break down easily in the natural environment, allowing them to spread through dirt, water, wind and even wildlife. Although research into specific health effects is ongoing, studies have linked PFAS to a variety of issues, including certain cancers, developmental issues and decreased immune responses.

A state law will take effect in 2024 that will ban the sale of many consumer products containing PFAS.

Brian Devine, SJBPH’s environmental health director, said he expects well owners to sign up for testing as soon as possible.

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

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

Devine said CDPHE is providing funding for PFAS testing throughout the state. Representatives for the agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The intent is to target high-risk areas where PFAS may be used or stored, including airports, landfills and some fire stations.

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

“We hope everyone gets tested,” Devine said. “I would be very happy if we got to user test every well in Archuleta and La Plata counties. But we are focusing on a few of these facilities and the water around them because of how groundwater works. And there is a very wide buffer zone.

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

PFAS have been specifically linked to certain types of fire-fighting foam, and the CDPHE announced a “buyback” program in 2021 to prevent qualified fire departments from continuing to use foam containing the chemical. The Durango Fire Protection District said it would participate in the program.

Firefighting foam, pictured here at the 2014 fire on County Road 230, commonly contains PFAS. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment initiated a buyback program in 2021 to help phase out the foam from use. (Durango Herald File)

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

“I’m hopeful that people will be tested because this is really the first time we’ve done this kind of testing on a wide basis in private wells,” Devine said. “Some groundwater testing has been done in other parts of Colorado, but it was linked to specific sources of concern or even known contamination. But because they are so widely used, and they are easily released into the environment We also need to do these broad-scale or broad-scope testing programs.”

CDPHE has emergency assistance grants available to well owners who find PFAS levels in excess of EPA limits.

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

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

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