US Air Force Academy groundwater contaminated with toxic “forever chemicals,” authorities say

Sijan Hall on the campus of the Air Force Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The US Air Force Academy has a groundwater problem, and it all leads to a poisoned aquifer and firefighting foam.

A survey of USAFA groundwater revealed troubling levels of perfluorinated compounds, now adding yet another pin to the map of contaminated areas within El Paso County and the Pikes Peak region that has already cost tens of millions of dollars to address.

Water wells in the immediate area will be tested in order to see just how many people have been affected.

Aquifers near Peterson Air Force Base have been solidly contaminated, affecting over 64,000 people in the area just 20 miles south of the USAFA.

According to, the USAFA isn’t really in any danger, as their water is supplied by Colorado Springs Utilities, which has not detected any of the chemicals in the water. That said, water wells south of the academy may be affected.

“Bottom line, we will do everything we can immediately to ensure people have safe drinking water,” including providing bottled water,” Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko, an academy spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Four sites on the academy grounds were found to have chemical levels higher than an Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion, with previous reports pointing to areas where firefighting foam was used and the water-treatment plant.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are often used in firefighting foams, which are quite common anywhere where major aviation is present. If improperly disposed of (which, given the 203 sites to their name, the Air Force has become known for contaminated water by foam), the toxic chemicals can cause kidney and testicular cancers, low infant birth weight and high cholesterol.

At one Peterson AFB site, the chemicals measured about 88,000 parts per trillion — several thousand times the EPA’s health advisory.To put that into context, a tablespoon of the found PFAS in 20 Olympic-sized pools would easily exceed that advisory.

The chemicals are known as “forever chemicals,” due to their robust composition and are not easily broken down by nature.

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