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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

'Forever chemicals' ubiquitous in Colorado, EPA data suggests

Facilities in Colorado that "may be handling PFAS," according to EPA data
Facilities in Colorado that "may be handling PFAS," according to EPA data

News brief

The family of human-made chemicals known as PFAS are in all kinds of household products, including rain jackets and nonstick pans, but they also turn up in industrial products, such as firefighting foam. They stick around for a very long time - which is why they're often referred to as "forever chemicals" - including in the human body, and they can cause health problems. And there may be a disproportionate amount of them in the Mountain West.

Across the country, around 120,000 industrial facilities may be handling PFAS, according to Environmental Protection Agency documents releasedthis week by the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER. About one-sixth of those sites, or about 21,000, are in Colorado, more than any other state.

"The overwhelming percentage of sites that "may be handling PFAS" in Colorado (around 86%) are associated with the oil and gas industry. The number of oil and gas sites listed, around 18,000, dwarf the next most frequent industry, waste management, accounting for less than a thousand sites," a PEER press releasestates.

The data comes as the EPA launches a new effortto regulate the chemicals. But PEER attorney Monica Mercola says the Biden administration's actionsfall far short.

"It doesn't do as much as it should to protect human health," she said. "And this is the government's job. And I mean, to be blunt, you know, the government is failing us."

In most other Mountain West states, including Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada, potential PFAS sites number in the hundreds, far below Colorado's tally.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.

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