Denver, CO

Denver may sue over dangerous chemicals in city’s groundwater

David Heitz
Photo byChristopher Ott/Unsplash

The City and County of Denver plans to sue several large chemical companies for knowingly using dangerous compounds that seeped into the ground.

Aqueous film-forming foam also is known as AFFF. The city is suing all companies who manufactured, distributed, marketed or sold the chemicals.

The Finance and Governance Committee of the Denver City Council will vote March 14 on whether to hire several outside law firms to litigate. The firms include Keller Rohrback,
Napoli Shkolnick, Edelson and Miner and Barnhill & Galland.

The full City Council also must vote on the contract, which pays a firm 15 percent of all damages collected up to $500 million, and 10 percent of all damages collected beyond $500 million.

‘Dangerous to human health’

“Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (collectively, ‘PFAS’) are a class of highly toxic ‘forever’ chemicals that persist in the environment indefinitely ,” according to a memo from city staff to City Council. “These chemicals are human-made and do not occur naturally in the environment. PFAS are dangerous to human health and the environment even at fleetingly low

According to the memo, there may be no safe level of exposure to PFAS. “PFAS exposure interferes with human immune system functioning, disrupts mammalian reproductive and endocrine systems, and is associated with increased risks of kidney and testicular cancer,” according to the memo. “In addition to being highly toxic, these ‘forever chemicals’ are highly mobile. When they enter the environment, they travel through soil and eventually work their way into groundwater.”

Airport a hot spot

Some PFAS were used in DuPont’s Teflon. Another common use for PFAS is as a fire retardant.

The greatest use in Denver has been at Denver International Airport, and actually is required by the Federal Aviation Administration. “This problem is particularly acute for Denver as the operator of DEN, the second-largest airport in the world by land area,” according to the memo. “Denver also knows that PFAS contamination exists in soils and groundwater at the Roslyn Fire Training Facility and may be present in other Denver owned properties, as well.”

Cleanup will be difficult, expensive, and take years to complete, according to city staff. “The defendant companies, who continued to manufacture and sell these chemicals for decades despite their knowledge, should pay to help clean up the mess that they created.”

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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