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Colorado attorney general sues makers of firefighting foam that uses “forever chemicals” threatening drinking water

The chemicals, or PFAS, left Colorado with likely the most potential contamination spots in the nation from airfields, fire departments and oil and gas sites.

A puddle of water sits in a retaining pond below firefighting training area at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Widefield aquifer below the base was found to be contaminated with PFAS from the use of toxic firefighting foam. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP)
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The Colorado Attorney General’s Office filed suit Monday against 15 makers of firefighting foam that contains “forever chemicals” called PFAS, alleging the companies caused contamination found in water samples taken across the state and endangered public health. 

The lawsuit in state district court says the companies, including five related to DuPont, “knew or should have known their products harm the environment and public health, and is asking the court to require these manufacturers to pay for all costs to investigate, cleanup, restore and monitor contamination at all sites,” said Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for Attorney General Phil Weiser. 

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State health officials have detected PFAS contamination at airfields and other sites where firefighting foam is used around Colorado Springs, at the Suncor Energy refinery and other locations across Colorado, the lawsuit says. It accuses the companies of negligence, public nuisance and “unjust enrichment” for allegedly creating spinoff companies to avoid liability costs. 

“These companies knew that these chemicals posed significant threats to human health and the environment and nonetheless put Colorado at risk; it is important that they pay for the harm they caused,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser, in a release.

Other companies are also responsible for contamination, but the state is negotiating with them on a possible settlement, the release said. If negotiations fail, they could be added to the suit. The investigation into PFAS contamination is continuing, Weiser’s office said.

“Research indicates that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS chemicals may: increase cholesterol levels; cause liver damage or changes in liver function; decrease how well the body responds to vaccines; increase the risk of serious conditions like high blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnant women; lower infant birth weights; and be associated with a higher risk of kidney or testicular cancer,” the lawsuit says. 

The chemicals have been detected in soils and water in 50 of Colorado’s 64 counties, the suit says. It also cites studies showing that firefighters exposed to PFAS chemicals have higher levels of the agents in their blood than other residents. 

A spokesman for DuPont de Nemours, one of the DuPont entities named in the Colorado lawsuit, rejected the claim.

“In 2019, DuPont de Nemours was established as a new multi-industrial specialty products company. DuPont de Nemours has never manufactured or sold” the targeted chemicals, the company statement said.

“We believe this complaint is without merit, and is the latest example of DuPont being improperly named in litigation,” DuPont said. The company said it expects the suit to be transferred to a multi-jurisdiction case in federal court in South Carolina, “where we look forward to vigorously defending our record of safety, health and environmental stewardship.”

An analysis by environmental and legal advocacy groups last fall said Colorado has more than 21,000 locations likely to have handled PFAS, which encompasses a large number of chemicals that have repellant or lubricant properties. One of the most common uses in recent decades was to make non stick cooking utensils and pans. 

“Defendants knew for decades that PFAS chemicals were toxic and posed substantial health and environmental risks, but they continued to use” the chemicals in products and distribute them in Colorado, the AG’s lawsuit says.  

State officials have launched “takeback” programs offering to replace PFAS firefighting foam for departments around Colorado. There is also likely to be an effort at the state legislature this year to phase out the sale of any remaining PFAS-containing products. 

This story was updated at on Monday, Feb. 28, with more information from the lawsuit and a comment from DuPont. 


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