June 7, 2021

NMED investigates size of PFAS plumes

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

PFAS 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 is investigating the size of the PFAS plumes in eastern New Mexico.

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are chemicals that were used in firefighting foam at two air force bases in the state. The chemicals can impact human health and are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade in the environment.

For decades, the U.S. Department of Defense did not properly dispose of the foam at Holloman and Cannon air force bases. This led to groundwater contamination.

The extent of that contamination is unknown and the investigation will help determine how far the plumes extend.

NMED has sued the DOD over the contamination, which the DOD first disclosed to the state in 2018, and the litigation is ongoing.

According to the environment department, PFAS can lead to children having a decreased response to vaccination. It can also cause low birth weights. The chemicals have also been linked to increased cholesterol levels and increased risk of kidney and testicular cancers.

In addition to helping determine the size of the plumes, the investigation will look into where public and private water sources could be contaminated and how wildlife may be impacted by the chemicals. The environment department will also establish routine groundwater monitoring programs.

This work must be completed before the cleanup begins.

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

“We are now several months into our technical assessment of the PFAS contamination of land and water in Clovis and Alamogordo caused by the U.S. Department of Defense,” NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said in a statement. “Our proactive efforts demonstrate our commitment to moving quickly to protect communities while aggressively pursuing the science needed for public health decision-making.”

The investigation at both bases is anticipated to be completed in the summer of 2022, after which NMED will evaluate the next steps.

NMED said that the next steps will be based on the amount of funding available, actions that DOD has taken and the risks to public health.

NMED spokeswoman Maddy Hayden said the organization will provide regular updates about the investigation. She encouraged members of the public to stay engaged in the process by going to env.nm.gov/pfas/main, where the updates are posted.

People who live near the air force bases can check with their water utility. Hayden said there are no regulatory requirements in place to test for PFAS, however water systems like EPCOR, which serves Clovis, have conducted testing.

These tests include looking for two types of PFAS known as PFOS and PFOA.

Anyone who learns that their water exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Public Health Advisory of 70 parts per million of PFOS or PFOA should consider using a water filtration system to remove the chemicals. Boiling the water does not remove them.

Hayden stated in an email that people who are concerned with the health impacts of PFAS can contact the New Mexico Department of Health at 505-827-0006 or visit https://nmtracking.org/epht-view/environment/PFCS.html.

NMED received funding from the Legislature this year to study contamination in Curry and Roosevelt counties, including collecting water samples from well owners. These samples were collected this spring and will be analyzed for up to 33 different PFAS compounds. The results will be posted online in the summer or fall.

More information can be found at env.nm.gov/pfas/data.