Summit County firefighters say ‘forever chemicals’ were discontinued years ago as Frisco searches for source of contamination in water well

Firefighters say it's been years since PFAS-laden foam was used locally

Use of PFAS-laden foam at Frisco's County Commons training center is considered a possible source for PFAS in Frisco's Well 7.
Luke Vidic/Summit Daily News

After the EPA revised its guidelines for PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” drinking water in Frisco and more than 100 other towns across the state were above recommended levels. Frisco shut off its only tainted well — Well 7 located near the Frisco Peninsula — shortly after learning the news, but the question of where the chemicals came from remains.

No exact cause of the PFAS contsamination in Well 7 has been found, although some of the town’s early thoughts turned to the firefighting training center on County Commons, but both Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District and Summit Fire & EMS said they stopped using PFAS-laden firefighting foam years ago.

“We were already concerned about it,” Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortenson said talking about the PFAS problem as a whole.

The town participated in a statewide PFAS test conducted in 2020 and two follow up tests in 2021. All three tests concluded Well 7, drilled in 2006 but not connected to the town’s water system until 2018, had levels of PFAS below the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines. Levels of perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid  — two varieties of PFAS — were between 17.2 parts per trillion and 16 parts per trillion, the town stated in its letter.

For reference, Colorado Department of Public Health considers one part per trillion as equal to one drop of dish soap in a 10-mile-long string of railroad water tankers.

Public Works Director Jeff Goble said the town expects results from another round of testing in the coming weeks, depending on the lab’s availability. He also said Well 7 is not hydraulically connected to the Dillon Reservoir. Water does not flow from the well to the reservoir, or vice versa.

Mortensen said the town sought solutions and grant funding as soon as the town became aware of the presence of PFAS in 2021, even though it was still compliant with the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines of no more than 70 parts per trillion. When the Environmental Protection Agency revised its guidelines to 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion for perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, respectively, on June 15, it simply sped things up for Frisco, Mortensen said. The town is currently working with water system engineers to select and design a treatment system to keep PFAS below detectable levels.

When it comes to causes, the town’s website website states the following:

“Basically, PFAS has been and continues to be in many products that we use on a daily basis, and there is no way to know with 100% certainty why there are PFAS substances in Well 7. One possibility is that it may be related to the presence of a fire training facility nearby. A 2019 Colorado law banned the use of firefighting foam containing these chemicals for training or testing systems that suppress fire.”

Since the letter was released on July 12, Frisco Spokesperson Vanessa Agee said no new information has surfaced as to a cause.

“This is why we need to do everything to reduce plastic and chemical use,” Mortensen said, advocating for more environmental conscious practices.

The firefighting foam in question comes in two classes, A and B. Both are combined with water to put out fires. Class A is “basically like Dawn dish soap,” Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said. It’s environmentally benign, contains no PFAS and is EPA approved, he said. It is added to water as it comes out of the firefighters’ hose, and clings to vegetation and structures so they stay wet.

Class B, on the other hand, was manufactured with PFAS. It was designed for trickier fires — ones involving oil or chemical spills that can’t be fought with water.

The training center at County Commons does not have its own foam. All foam is provided by the agency using the facility that day, Red, White & Blue Deputy Chief Jay Nelson said. Red, White & Blue stopped using Class B foam around the middle of 2012, Nelson said.

Summit Fire & EMS stopped using Class B a couple years ago and, “even with our use of this, it was pretty darn limited,” Lipsher said.

Lipsher said he was unaware when Summit Fire & EMS began using Class B foam. Several sealed containers of it wound up in a storage closet at Summit Fire & EMS’s headquarters since they didn’t see much action at the training center, he said. Summit Fire & EMS never used more than a 5-gallon bucket in a year, he reported.

Summit Fire & EMS has taken advantage of the state’s PFAS buy-back program, Lipsher said. Summit Fire & EMS is reportedly in conversations with the state about the remaining sealed containers.

Since Red, White & Blue stopped using PFAS foam in 2012, it only had one 5-gallon pail remaining when the program began in 2021. That pail had been opened and could no longer be sold to the state, Nelson said, and so Red, White & Blue is looking at safely disposing it.

“None of us are interested in pointing fingers at one another,” Lipsher said.

If the training center is found to be the source of PFAS in Frisco’s water, Lipsher said Summit Fire & EMS would follow whatever recommendations are given.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.