‘Everyone is watching New Mexico’: Update shows no progress on PFAS clean up

Sitting before the state legislature’s interim committee on radioactive and hazardous materials, Walter Bradley told lawmakers to look at a red dot on a colored map provided to each member. 

“That red dot is a $20 million dairy facility that is now worth zero,” Bradley, who handles government and business affairs for Dairy Farmers of America, told committee members. “There’s no money, [the farmer] can’t sell his milk, he can’t sell his cows, he’s completely bankrupt. That dot is right next to the Cannon Air Force Base fire training facility.”

Bradley, who was Lieutenant Governor under Gary Johnson, spoke alongside Stephanie Stringer, director of New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) resource protection division, to give the interim committee an update on the PFAS contamination issues in the state before the next legislative session. 

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that can move through groundwater and biological systems. Human exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancers as well as other severe illnesses. The chemicals were used in firefighting foam in military bases across the country, including at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, until 2016. The Air Force began investigating PFAS discharges across its installations in 2015, and the chemicals were detected in 2018 in groundwater at Cannon Air Force Base, located west of Clovis and at Holloman Air Force Base, located west of Alamogordo.

Tests: PFAS limits below federal limits in drinking water near Cannon

According to recent tests, Cannon Air Force Base’s public water system is safe. In response to the discovery of groundwater contamination last year, the state of New Mexico conducted follow-up testing this spring. Samples from two of the four wells currently supplying drinking water tested by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) did contain polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. That includes samples from the Turquoise Estates drinking water system. But the levels are below the federal health advisory.

The military projects in NM that might be cut to fund a border wall

The U.S. Department of Defense listed military construction projects from across the world that could lose funding under a national emergency declaration by President Donald Trump. Included among those are projects at military facilities in New Mexico. Trump’s national emergency declaration would draw funds from the DOD to construct a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Both the U.S. House and Senate—led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall—voted to disapprove Trump’s national emergency declaration. Trump vetoed Congress’ effort.

‘Intolerant’ of groundwater contamination, NM sues Air Force over PFAS pollution

In a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force, New Mexico alleges the military isn’t doing enough to contain or clean up dangerous chemicals that have seeped into the groundwater below two Air Force bases in the state. On Tuesday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) filed a complaint in federal district court, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and fund, cleanup at the two bases near Clovis and Alamogordo. “We have significant amounts of PFAS in the groundwater, under both Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases,” NMED Secretary James Kenney told NM Political Report. PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that move through groundwater and biological systems. Even in small amounts, exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer and problems like ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension. NMED Secretary James Kenney

“We want the groundwater cleaned up in the shortest amount of time possible, and we think at this point litigation is our best and fastest approach,” Kenney said.

CDC identifies communities to test for PFAS. But none are in New Mexico.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) identified communities in five states, where they plan to test for human exposure to per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Those are the same chemicals that contaminated the groundwater below Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases. PFAS was found within foams used to extinguish petroleum-based fires, and also used in products like non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and other products.  

But New Mexico isn’t on the list of five states where testing will occur.  

Starting this year, ATSDR will test eight communities near military bases, including:

Berkeley County, WV near Shepherd Field Air National Guard BaseEl Paso County, CO near Peterson Air Force BaseFairbanks North Star Borough, AK near Eielson Air Force BaseHampden County, MA near Barnes Air National Guard BaseLubbock County, TX near Reese Technology CenterOrange County, NY near Stewart Air National Guard BaseNew Castle County, DE near New Castle Air National Guard BaseSpokane County, WA near Fairchild Air Force Base

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that activities at 126 military bases had contaminated groundwater with PFAS.

Groundwater contamination devastates a New Mexico dairy – and threatens public health

For
months, Clovis dairy farmer Art Schaap has been watching his life go
down the drain. Instead of selling milk, he is dumping 15,000 gallons
a day – enough to provide a carton at lunch to 240,000 children. Instead of working 24/7 to keep his animals healthy, he’s planning
to exterminate all 4,000 of his cows, one of the best herds in Curry
County’s booming dairy industry. The 54-year-old second-generation dairy farmer learned last August that his water, his land, his crops – even the blood in his body – were contaminated with chemicals that migrated to his property from nearby Cannon Air Force Base. See all of NM Political Report’s coverage on PFAS contamination.

State to Air Force: Clean up contamination at Holloman

The state of New Mexico has responded to reports of groundwater contamination at yet another Air Force base—this time, Holloman Air Force Base. On Wednesday, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued a notice of violation against the U.S. Air Force over groundwater contamination at Holloman, which sits on nearly 60,000 acres just outside the City of Alamogordo. “We are dismayed by the Air Force’s lack of prompt response to the contamination found at Holloman and will use all avenues available to us to hold the military accountable and make affected New Mexicans whole again,” said NMED Secretary-designate James Kenney in a press release from the department. “This Notice of Violation is a step toward ensuring that happens.”

A November 2018 Air Force site inspection report showed contamination levels in some areas at Holloman are 18,000 times the federal limit for PFAS. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of human-made chemicals, and include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

2018 report shows off-the-charts contamination in Holloman AFB water

The groundwater below Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo tested positive for hazardous chemicals—and the contamination levels are more than 18,000 times higher than what the federal government says is safe.  

A November 2018 site inspection report provided to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and obtained by NM Political Report this week, details the contamination. Currently, the state is trying to understand the extent of the problem and what might be done. According to the report, in 2016, the U.S. Air Force identified 31 potential release sites at Holloman. Two years later, in 2018, contractors tested five areas to determine if PFAS were present in soil, sediment, ground or surface water.

New Mexico: Air Force is violating state water law at Cannon AFB

The state of New Mexico says the U.S. Air Force needs to immediately develop a plan to protect dairies from chemicals at Cannon Air Force Base. The New Mexico Environment Department announced today that Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis is violating the state’s Water Quality Act and related ground and surface water regulations. The state agency issued a Notice of Violation, which requires the Air Force to create a plan to protect local dairies from contamination in the short-term and also evaluate the possibility of installing systems to treat contaminated water supplies. If the military fails to comply, New Mexico can issue civil penalties of up to $15,000 per day for each violation. Chemicals from fire fighting training activities have been found in the groundwater below Cannon, and in groundwater wells off-base.

NM Environment Review: More on Cannon AFB + news around NM

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

Late last week, we covered groundwater contamination at Cannon Air Force Base, which is part of a nationwide problem at U.S. military bases worldwide. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that activities at 126 military bases had contaminated groundwater with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of human-made chemicals, often referred to as PFAS’s.