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El Paso County to participate in CDC study on PFAS contaminants in drinking water

WATCH: El Paso County to participate in CDC study on PFAS contaminants in drinking water

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The CDC announced Monday that doctors across the U.S. will be conducting a study to investigate the long term side effects of drinking water contaminated by PFAS and PFCS -- man-made chemicals that can get into groundwater, soil, and eventually into your cells. 

The PFAS levels in El Paso County have registered more than 1,000 times higher than the health advisory limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency for similar chemicals. And while clean up efforts have taken place, in some cases the damage has already been done.

In the next few months, hundreds of residents in El Paso County will be invited to join this new study that looks at the relationship between exposure and health outcomes. 

"It's a group of chemicals that was created in the 1950's," said Liz Rosenbaum, founder of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition. "Our organization started in November of 2016. Our main focus was understanding what PFAS was and what this contamination meant to our community."

"This new research study is a great step forward in understanding the health effects from this contamination to the residents of the community who lived here before 2016," she said. 

So what makes this study different? Seven major medical institutions will work together on this multi-site study. In Colorado, the grant has been awarded to Dr. John Adgate at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

His team will look at exposures in El Paso County by taking blood samples from 1,000 adults and 300 children.

They'll look at the immune system, increased cancer risk, fertility, and issues with growth. 

"The big unknown with PFAS compounds is what the human health effects are from long-term exposure," said Dr. John Adgate. 

Dr. Adgate has already been working with citizens in the Fountain area for the past few years and he's excited to work on the national study and answer important questions. 

"What happened there is sort of an unfortunate natural experiment because we have people who are highly exposed and got much higher than national background levels of number of the PFAS compounds in their blood," he said. 

Concerned citizens like Rosenbaum say it's important to understand these contaminants so we don't repeat similar mistakes.

Each institution has been given one million dollars in grant money. The study starts this week and will run for 5 years.

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