July 9, 2021

USDA may buy cows from dairy farm contaminated with PFAS

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 U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on regulations that would allow the government to buy the cattle from a dairy farm in Clovis where groundwater was contaminated by PFAS related to training at a nearby Air Force base, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez said during a virtual press conference on Friday.

Art Schaap, the owner of Highland Dairy, and Leger Fernandez spoke about the challenges the dairy has faced since learning of the contamination.

Schaap has been paying to try to keep the sick cattle alive and, when they do die, he has been burying the corpses on his farm, which requires a permit. He said the USDA buying the cows will allow for a humane solution for the animals, which are currently suffering as he does what he can to keep them alive. The meat cannot be sold even for dog food, he said, and the bodies need to be incinerated to prevent their contaminated flesh from polluting the water.

“What we’re asking for is to fix it humanely,” Schaap said.

Schaap first learned of the contamination in 2018, though he now knows that his family and employees were exposed to the “forever chemicals” for more than 20 years as the Air Force used a type of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, for fire suppression during training exercises at Cannon Air Force Base.

These chemicals can have adverse impacts on both human and animal health, including leading to cancer.

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

Schaap’s story received national attention as he has fought to get compensated for the pollution that ultimately shut down the farm he had hoped to pass on to future generations and left him with thousands of cows that have elevated levels of PFAS in their bodies and milk.

The USDA provided Schaap with monthly payments to offset the loss of income from the milk until December 2020.

“Art has been without any type of assistance for over six months on something that he didn’t cause and on something he wishes had never happened to him, his family or his community. Art is doing everything he has been told to do by the agencies and more,” Leger Fernandez said.

She said she met with the USDA Secretary Tom Vislack this week to discuss the PFAS contamination.

“He recognized the need to actually buy the cows,” she said.

She said there is statutory authority to pay for the cows, but only after the regulatory process is completed.

New Mexico is not the only place where PFAS used at military bases has impacted the water supplies and left dairy farmers struggling. PFAS contamination has been found across the country, including in dairy farms in Maine.