- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

DENVER (AP) - The military will pay $4.3 million for filters in public water systems outside Colorado Springs and is speeding up its investigation into whether potentially harmful chemicals in the water came from nearby Peterson Air Force Base.

The Air Force announced the steps Tuesday after a preliminary review showed that a firefighting foam used during training exercises decades ago at Peterson may be the source of the contaminants.

Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, were found in water systems serving about 69,000 people in the city of Fountain and an unincorporated community called Security-Widefield.

PFCs have been linked to prostate, kidney and testicular cancer, along with other illnesses.

State health officials say residents of Fountain and Security-Widefield have higher rates of kidney cancer than the surrounding population, but they say that might be because the residents also have higher rates of obesity and smoking.

In a report dated June 30, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it doesn’t have enough information to definitively link the increased cancer rate to PFCs.

“However, available data suggest possible causes other than drinking water exposure,” the report said.

PFCs have been widely used in firefighting foam, non-stick cookware coatings and other applications but are being phased out of the products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t regulate PFCs but is evaluating them.

Peterson is one of 664 military sites nationwide under review by the Defense Department for possible groundwater contamination from PFCs in firefighting foam.

Air Force officials aren’t certain the PFCs in Fountain and Security-Widefield came from Peterson, spokesman Steve Brady said Wednesday. A contractor will begin drilling monitoring wells in October to determine the source and the extent of the chemicals. Preliminary results are expected in March 2017.

In the meantime, filters will be installed at or near wells supplying water to Fountain and Security-Widefield. They’re considered a temporary measure until a permanent solution is found.

Monitoring wells weren’t scheduled to be drilled until May 2017, but Peterson officials requested quicker installation after receiving the results of a preliminary review of PFC use at the base. The report hasn’t been made public.

Peterson used foam containing PFCs in firefighting training exercises from 1970 until about 1990, when the base switched to water.

Peterson still uses foam with PFCs for emergencies but is looking for a replacement material, officials said.

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Follow Dan Elliott at https://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/dan-elliott.

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