Bennet, Hickenlooper Urge Air Force to Address Water Contamination in El Paso County

Senators Ask the Air Force to Expand a Pilot Program That Removes Harmful Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) From Water to Cover Contaminated Areas in El Paso County

Denver – Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper urged the U.S. Air Force to address water contamination in El Paso County from polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which was found in firefighting foam used at Peterson Space Force Base (SFB). PFAS has contaminated the Widefield aquifer that provides drinking water to thousands of local residents and supplies surface water to area ponds, some which are used for recreational fishing. 

“We understand that multiple pilot projects are ongoing at Peterson Space Force Base to test technologies that can remove PFAS from groundwater and soils,” wrote Bennet and Hickenlooper in their letter. “Given the elevated levels of PFAS discovered in the fish and surface water of El Paso County linked to contamination from Air Force operations, we request that a pilot project be conducted at Willow Springs pond to test technologies which may be used to remove PFAS from surface water bodies. To the extent possible, the Air Force should coordinate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the other state partners who research the effects of PFAS contamination.”

In June 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a report for the Security-Widefield, El Paso County, Colorado, Exposure Assessment investigating exposure to PFAS. The report highlights disturbing data on elevated blood levels of PFAS in residents exposed to drinking water contaminated by operations at the Peterson Space Force Base. These findings reinforce the urgency of improving our understanding of and regulating the use of these forever chemicals. While the health effects of PFAS chemicals are still being determined, studies have linked PFAS exposure to developmental damage, certain cancers, and immune system dysfunction. 

Since the PFAS levels detected in the Widefield aquifer have been linked to Peterson SFB, Bennet and Hickenlooper are calling on the Air Force to expand its pilot program to remove PFAS from water to cover these contaminated areas in El Paso County. The senators are also asking the Biden Administration to partner with Colorado and take additional steps to address PFAS contamination stemming from military activities to protect communities. 

They concluded: “Finally, we ask the administration to commit to partnering with CDPHE and other relevant Colorado agencies, our local communities, and other key stakeholders to address PFAS contamination stemming from military activities. In particular, communication and coordination between all parties studying and working to remedy the PFAS contamination in El Paso County, Colorado is critically important. It is critical that we use the best available science to protect the health and well-being of Coloradans and our communities. We look forward to hearing from you on this issue.”

The full text of the letter is available HERE.


Throughout his time in the Senate, Bennet has continued to work with his colleagues to address PFAS contamination and protect Colorado communities. In December 2021, Bennet introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would reimburse local water districts for PFAS contamination cleanup. In October 2020, Bennet and his colleagues wrote to the Senate and House Armed Services Committee leadership urging the inclusion of several provisions to address PFAS contamination in the final NDAA. In February 2020, Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler requesting an updated timeline for when the EPA will implement commitments made in the agency’s plan to combat exposure to PFAS. 

In March 2019, Bennet and his colleagues introduced the PFAS Action Plan of 2019, legislation that would mandate the EPA, within one year of enactment, declare PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law. It would also enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.

In May 2018, Bennet visited communities around Peterson SFB  to receive an update on remediation efforts. There, Bennet also received an update on the challenges water districts are having receiving reimbursement for steps they took to clean up drinking water. In June 2018, Bennet demanded the Trump Administration release the results of a study regarding what levels of certain chemicals are safe in drinking water. According to news reports at the time, the EPA had been working to block the release of results from a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) study on the toxicity of certain PFAS. 

In September 2017, Bennet pushed for a nationwide study on the health effects of PFAS and for additional funding for remediation and clean up. In the 2018 omnibus, Bennet secured $44 million in funding for Air Force environmental restoration and remediation. A significant amount of that funding was used for remediation for clean drinking water in communities around Peterson SFB in Colorado.