CDPHE: Water commission adopts policy to regulate toxic chemicals
DENVER (July 15, 2020): The Water Quality Control Commission adopted a policy to help reduce PFAS, pervasive chemicals that originate from toxic firefighting foam and other sources.
The proposal is one step forward in the department’s Action Plan to reduce exposure, protect drinking water, and clean up the chemicals to protect Coloradans from negative health consequences.
“We are still learning about these chemicals and the level of risk they pose. To meet the expectations of the community, we’ve been engaged in a robust stakeholder process, striving to be as transparent as possible while incorporating community input,” said Nicole Rowan, clean water program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This policy will help guide the state in determining which chemicals to monitor for, what the limits for those chemicals should be, and what conditions need to be put in place for permittees so we limit the level of the chemicals going into our surface and groundwater.”
The EPA has issued a drinking water health advisory for two of the chemicals that provide information about these substances that can cause human health impacts when present in drinking water. EPA has not yet developed limits for surface or groundwater.
“We can’t wait for the EPA to come up with guidance; it would take too long. We need to take action now using the most current and best information available so we can start getting a better sense of the level of exposure we have in our state and to take the necessary steps to protect Coloradans from being more at risk,” said John Putnam, environmental programs director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Results from the department’s sampling program, released just last month, further affirmed the need for this policy. All of the samples collected from 71 rivers or streams in Colorado had some detectable level of the chemicals. In one case, the sample collected at the mouth of Sand Creek in Commerce City was above the EPA drinking water health advisory, but the state isn’t aware of anyone directly drinking this affected water. Nonetheless, high levels of the chemicals in streams can impact downstream drinking water supplies since they don’t break down.
The data indicate that industrial entities that have permits to discharge wastewater into rivers and streams may play a large role in the buildup of the chemicals. Sand Creek was sampled twice– one upstream of Commerce City on the east end of Aurora and one downstream before it flows into the South Platte. A number of industries treat and discharge wastewater in that area. The upstream sample result was 13 parts per trillion, and the chemical amount increased downstream to a combined level of 77 parts per trillion for the chemicals, a level above EPA’s drinking water health advisory.
The policy will provide the department with clear guardrails for setting wastewater discharge permit limits on the chemicals released into local waterways. It also provides time for city and county wastewater treatment plants to work to reduce the chemicals from industries that use them and that discharge their wastewater with these chemicals into local sewer systems.