ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY EAN THOMAS TAFOYA AND REBECCA CURRY IN THE COLORADO SUN
THE BENEFIT WOULD BE FELT MOST BY NORTHEAST DENVER’S HEAVILY POLLUTED NEIGHBORHOODS
Colorado can continue to make progress on dismantling its legacy of toxic environmental injustices this year. For too long, like many states across the country, we have allowed industry to run rampant at the expense of our residents, particularly low-income communities and communities of color.
Northeast Denver ranks among the most polluted ZIP codes in the country, and the predominantly Latino communities of North Denver and Commerce City have borne the brunt of the negative health impacts and lowered quality of living. Toxics are of concern for people in all corners of the state, and people in communities like Lakewood, Grand Junction, Pueblo, and Greeley are organizing to take them on.
Though our state has made some progress tackling these injustices in recent years, we have a long way to go.
In 2021, we advanced environmental justice and increased monitoring of toxic pollution that threatens community health. This year, two bills in the state General Assembly will continue to move Colorado in a more just and healthy direction.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to do enough to limit harm from toxic chemicals in both the air we breathe and the products we use. States across the country have stepped up to fill this void to ensure their communities are adequately protected from polluting industries, and we must do the same here in Colorado.
The first bill, HB22-1244, will help ensure Coloradans have clean, healthy air to breathe no matter where they live or how much they earn. The bill will protect communities by setting up a new Colorado Air Toxics Program, which will increase our understanding of toxic exposures throughout the state and take regulatory steps to protect public health.
The bill will accomplish this by directing the state to set and enforce health-based ambient air-quality standards for toxics of concern in Colorado. These health-based standards are essentially a limit on the amount of a toxin that can be in the air to protect public health.
HB22-1244 builds on Colorado’s efforts in recent years to monitor toxic emissions facilities’ fencelines — where harmful pollution spills into neighboring communities. While fenceline monitoring is an important tool to identify leaks and notify the public of spikes in toxics, our state has a responsibility to do more.
HB22-1244 will go beyond prior efforts by directing the state to regulate air toxics of concern in Colorado by setting health-based standards and adopting control measures to achieve meaningful reductions of the pollutants that are harming Colorado’s communities.
Disproportionately, the impacts of air pollutants are felt by communities of color, workers, and low-income communities that live in and near pollution hotspots across the state. Toxic air pollutants from industrial facilities are known to pose a risk of cancer and other serious health impacts and have compounded the harms of the COVID-19 pandemic on these communities. It is time for our General Assembly to prioritize the health of our most vulnerable residents over the ability for corporations to continue polluting unchecked.
The second bill, HB22-1345, would help stop toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances pollution throughout the state. These substances, known as PFAS, are chemicals that have been widely used in everyday consumer products for decades, resulting in contamination of our water, soil, and food.
PFAS are harmful to people in very low doses. Even extremely low concentrations have been linked to serious health effects such as cancer, reproductive problems, hormone disruption, and immune system harm. Fetuses and newborns are especially vulnerable to PFAS.
Beginning in 2024, HB22-1345 would prohibit the sale of certain consumer products containing PFAS — including cosmetics, carpets, food packaging, cookware, baby gear, and fracking fluids — where safer and viable alternatives exist in the market. It also would instruct state agencies to purchase PFAS-free items whenever possible and further restrict the sale and use of firefighting foam that contains PFAS.
PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals; they do not easily break down and can persist in our bodies and the environment for decades. More than 95 percent of the U.S. population has PFAS in their bodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Colorado has been particularly hard hit by PFAS pollution with roughly 21,000 sites that may be handling PFAS – more than any other state. Drinking water is one of the most common routes of exposure to PFAS and data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows it is widespread in our precious waters. Residents in El Paso County have on average 12-times more of one type of PFAS (PFHxS) in their blood than the national average, due to firefighting foams at a nearby Air Force base.
It is time to take on toxics; Colorado’s communities have suffered at the hands of industry for far too long. Disproportionately, these industries’ toxic pollution has impacted Black, Latino, indigenous, and other people of color, low-income communities, and workers who do not have the luxury of simply moving away, changing jobs, or avoiding certain products.
It is incumbent upon our General Assembly to step forward and protect its most vulnerable residents from the toxins that are harming our health and the environment. By passing these two bills, our elected officials can send a strong signal that the days of putting corporate profits before our health are numbered.