Air Force Changes Course On Previously Reported Toxic Discharge at Peterson AFB

Nov 3, 2016

The Air Force released new details yesterday about a previously reported discharge of contaminated water into the Colorado Springs sewer system at Peterson Air Force Base. Officials are now saying the discharge didn’t happen as they thought.

Col. Douglas Schiess, Peterson AFB Commander (left) and Mark Correll, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety and Infrastructure (right) briefed the media Wednesday.
Credit Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Officials say only 20,000 gallons of contaminated water were actually released from a retention tank on the base last month—significantly less than the 150,000 originally reported—and that the water never actually made it to the sewer system. 

At a media briefing Wednesday, Peterson Air Force Base Commander Colonel Douglas Schiess said the missing water ended up in a lined firefighting training pit, where it evaporated. He added that the earlier announcement was made prematurely.

"In an effort to be transparent to our community, we may have released information on the possible water discharge before evaluating all of the possibilities," said Schiess. He explained that "a miscommunication between two parts of [Peterson Air Force Base's] civil engineering squadron" accounted for the error. 

Officials did however confirm that water containing Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) has been released into the Colorado Springs sewer system in the past. Colonel Schiess said contaminated water was discharged roughly three times a year, with the most recent release occurring with residual water in August, 2016. The Air Force now says it stopped actually using PFC-containing firefighting foams in training exercises in 2015.

Crews drilled a monitoring well at the former site of a firefighting training are at Peterson Air Force Base. Wednesday, 11/2/16.
Credit Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Drilling has begun at Peterson Air Force Base on monitoring wells, which will test soil and water to determine whether those firefighting foams, long used at the base, are the source of PFC contamination in drinking water in Security, Widefield, and Fountain. The Air Force has pledged $4.3 million dollars toward efforts to investigate and mitigate the contamination. 

Meanwhile, El Paso County officials are calling on the Air Force to supply regular updates to residents on its progress in installing filtration systems at municipal wells to remove PFCs from drinking water in affected areas.

 

"We understand the Air Force wants to be good neighbors and we will do all we can to facilitate better communications and transparency," said El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller in a statement. "Everybody wants to know how and when it will be fixed, what is being done to ensure that it won’t happen again and that the costs of clean up won’t result in higher water bills.”