State agencies review new research related to irrigation water

Colorado News

REMOTE — Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) are assessing new data to determine the extent in which PFAS chemicals — a family of chemicals that originate from toxic firefighting foam and other sources — may be contaminating irrigation water in certain areas.  

A recent modeling study from the Colorado School of Mines indicates that eating lettuce watered with contaminated irrigation water may put people at risk for harmful health impacts. The School of Mines study results are not based on measurements taken on actual farms in Colorado, but rather simulations. Still, it provides important information regarding a potential exposure pathway outside of drinking water, and CDPHE and CDA will evaluate next best steps to ensure that produce in Colorado is not irrigated with water containing high levels of these chemicals.

“Colorado is fortunate to benefit from the expertise of our public health and environment scientists, research of academic institutions, and the leadership of our state’s agricultural producers,” said Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg. “At the Department of Agriculture, our Agricultural Water Quality Program has worked for decades to support sound and safe irrigation practices that protect farmers, consumers, and our environment, and this work remains a priority.”

The contaminating chemicals referenced in the School of Mines study are found in certain firefighting foam used generally for high-heat fires, chemical products, consumer products, and other sources. The chemicals can get into water, especially groundwater, and can contaminate water supplies. Consuming high levels can cause negative health effects

“These chemicals are present throughout our environment,” said Kristy Richardson, state toxicologist, CDPHE, “and Colorado is committed to using the best available science to continually refine our recommendations. A key priority is to reduce exposure to these chemicals wherever they occur.” 

The state has partnered with local health departments to sample residential private wells in areas where high levels of these chemicals were found in groundwater. Only a handful of wells had very high levels of the chemicals, and the owners have been advised to treat or not use this water. The state also found one farm using water with high levels of these chemicals, and they have since changed their operations. 

CDPHE and CDA will continue to partner with local public health agencies and investigate potential impacts to drinking water and irrigation water any time a contaminated site is identified in the state. People who know there is PFAS-contamination in their area should consider having their private wells tested if they are using that water source for drinking or for their home garden. To find out how, visit colorado.gov/cdphe/PFCs/water.

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