The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) fined the United States Air Force $1.7 million for multiple violations of state law regarding PFAS chemicals. NMED announced late Thursday that the department issued an administrative compliance order to the Air Force for unlawfully discharging wastewater without a groundwater permit at Cannon Air Force Base since April 1, 2019. Read all of our PFAS contamination coverage here
“The Air Force continues to ignore New Mexico’s environmental laws,” said NMED Sec. James Kenney in a statement. “Rather than address PFAS contamination, the Department of Defense shows no interest in helping afflicted communities and impacted natural resources.”
Cannon Air Force Base is one of two military installations in the state where PFAS chemicals have contaminated groundwater.
After a revelatory Department of Defense report in 2018 identified 126 military bases where firefighting training activities had contaminated groundwater sources, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued two notices of violation against the Air Force over PFAS groundwater contamination at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases. PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that 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 installations across the country. In January, the U.S. Air Force responded to the first notice of violation for contamination at Cannon Air Force Base with a lawsuit against the state, challenging NMED’s authority to compel PFAS cleanup under the state permit. A month later, NMED issued a second notice for groundwater contamination at Holloman, where PFAS contamination levels in some areas were found to be 18,000 times the federal “lifetime” drinking water exposure advisory levels for the chemicals.
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.
U.S. Army officials say no PFAS contamination has been detected at White Sands Missile Range, contradicting an article published by NM Political Report on September 24. That article was on this page, but is replaced with this post. Army personnel contacted NM Political Report Thursday to clarify the issue. Our initial article incorrectly stated groundwater samples from White Sands Missile Range tested positive for PFNA, which belongs to the PFAS family of chemicals found in firefighting foam. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of human-made chemicals, and include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS).
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham criticized the EPA for its refusal to join the state’s lawsuit against the Air Force for PFAS contamination at two bases in the state. PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that 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 New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) found “significant amounts of PFAS” in the groundwater, under both bases. The Air Force has since discontinued the use of the chemicals.
The state of New Mexico wants a federal court to compel the Air Force to address contamination at two U.S. Air Force bases. The contamination comes from PFAS, a class of chemicals that came from the use of a since-discontinued firefighting foam at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases. Areas of contamination span throughout the country with hundreds of confirmed locations across 43 states, largely from places like military bases. See all of NM Political Report’s coverage on PFAS contamination
The state filed a preliminary injunction to get the Air Force to regularly test groundwater and surface water testing, to provide alternate water sources for those affected and provide voluntary blood tests for those who may have been exposed to the toxic chemicals. The injunction was filed by the Attorney General and the New Mexico Environment Department.
Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals exist in furniture, waterproof makeup and clothing, nonstick cookware, popcorn bags, the foam used to extinguish petroleum fires (which is different from the slurry used across the West to fight wildfires), and countless other items. Known collectively as PFAS, this class of chemicals contains more than 5,000 different compounds that are often called “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down in the environment. PFAS chemicals are an omnipresent, if largely invisible, part of daily life. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Yet numerous studies have linked exposure to them to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and other health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2007 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives estimated that PFAS are in the blood of 98% of Americans.
This week we have a story about a new study in Nature that shows the “fingerprints” of climate change on 20th century drying. Next week, we’ll look at what some local governments in New Mexico are doing to prepare people for the continued impacts of warming. • There are two other recent studies worth checking out, including one in Nature about the risks of hydroclimate regime shifts in the western United States and another in Earth’s Future, published by the American Geological Union, about adaptation to water shortages caused by population growth and climate change. • Rebecca Moss with the Santa Fe New Mexican reports on the lack of progress on safety concerns at Los Alamos National Laboratory. • The Carlsbad Current Argus’s Adrien Hedden reports on New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard’s executive order to create a “buffer zone” around Chaco Canyon. The order enacts a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on 72,776 acres of state trust lands in the area. • Writing for High Country News, Nick Bowlin covers a judge’s ruling that reinstates the valuation rule, which the Trump administration repealed. We wrote about those changes in 2017, after the first time a judge ruled that the U.S. broke the law when “updating” how royalties are calculated on federal and tribal lands.
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.
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:
• A federal judge denied the federal government’s request to dismiss claims by the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation over the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. The Farmington Daily Times, The Denver Post, and Reuters all covered that news.