San Juan Basin Public Health Announces Free Well Testing for “Forever Chemicals” – The Durango Herald

Funding for PFAS testing will be provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

San Juan Basin Public Health is accepting applications for private well testing for PFAS, or “Forever Chemicals.” PFAS are found in a large variety of consumer, commercial, and industrial products and are associated with several serious health effects in humans. (The Durango Herald file)

The San Juan Basin Public Health Department has begun soliciting requests from private well owners to test their water for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals.”

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

PFAS stands for thousands of chemicals commonly used in a wide range of consumer, commercial and industrial products. Chemicals provide a huge benefit because they can be used to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. However, the properties that make them so useful also mean that they do not easily degrade in the natural environment, making it through dirt, water, air and even wildlife. Although research into specific health effects continues, studies have linked PFAS to a variety of issues including an increased risk of certain cancers, developmental issues and decreased immune responses.

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

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

“The more people we can sign up now or by December 8th, we can pass that list on to the contractors and they can do a big December sampling batch,” Devine said. “…the faster people sign up for this, the faster they will get test results.”

Devine said there is no limit to the number of wells that can be tested using grant resources. However, the department hopes to run the exam efficiently by doing as much of it at the same time as possible. The scholarship ends in June 2023.

CDPHE funds PFAS testing across the state, Devine said. Agency representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The intent is to target high-risk areas located near places where PFAS may have been used or stored, including airports, landfills, and some fire stations.

Devine said people who live near the Durango-La Plata County Airport should consider testing their wells, as should those who live near current or former landfills.

“We hope everyone gets tested,” Devin said. “If we get every good user in Archuleta and La Plata provinces for testing, I’ll be very happy. But we’re focused on some of these facilities and there’s a pretty broad buffer around it just for how groundwater works.”

Devine also stressed that the department is not pointing fingers at any facilities that may have used those chemicals since they are ubiquitous in a wide variety of products and have been in use since the 1940s.

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

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

The state has extensive mapping efforts underway to help the public understand where PFAS risks lie.

“I hope people will get tested because this is really the first opportunity to do this type of testing in private wells on a large scale,” Devine said. “There has been some groundwater testing in other parts of Colorado, but that was related to specific sources of concern or even known contamination. But because they are so widely used, and they don’t break down easily in the environment, we also need to do testing programs on a larger scale or on a larger scale.” Wider scope.

CDPHE has emergency assistance grants available to well owners who find PFAS levels that exceed EPA limits.

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

Anyone interested in getting their test well can contact the department at or 335-2060.

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