July 25, 2019

State presses Air Force to take action on PFAS contamination

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Cannon AFB courtesy photo: VIRIN: 101010-F-YG475-003.JPG

At Cannon Air Force Base, the 27th Special Operations Mission Support Group provides combat support and base sustainment services to ensure mission readiness.

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.

PFAS, or  per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of toxic chemicals that can move through groundwater. And the chemicals “bioaccumulate,” which means they increase as it moves up the food chain. The chemicals can increase the risk of serious health risks, including testicular, kidney and thyroid cancers.

The effects can take place months or even years after exposure.

Earlier this year, the state sued the U.S. Air Force over PFAS pollution, with NMED Secretary James Kenney telling NM Political Report he believed this was the fastest way to address the contamination.

Attorney General Hector Balderas says he is “extremely frustrated” at the lack of action from the Air Force.

“Because of their delay and failure to act, Secretary Kenney and I are asking the Court to ensure timely protection of New Mexico’s people, wildlife, and environment from this ongoing and devastating pollution,” Balderas said in announcing the action.

Kenney also criticized what he views as a lack of action from the Air Force.

“We will not allow this contamination to further threaten New Mexican’s health and the environment,” Kenney said. “In the absence of responsible and timely action on the part of the Air Force, the state will continue to seek whatever legal avenues available to compel clean up.”

The Air Force did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump threatened to veto a bill over language that would have required action on PFAS contamination.

Testing has shown that the amounts of PFAS were below federal limits in drinking water near Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico. But a Clovis dairy farmer previously said the contamination caused him to dump 15,000 gallons a day of milk. And a recent update from Searchlight New Mexico found that not much has changed for the farmer or others in the area.