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 released this 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 release states.
"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.