New Mexico officials find themselves stonewalled by the United States military over water contamination from two U.S. Air Force bases in the state. In early May, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary James Kenney sent a letter to the U.S. Air Force over contamination, this time at Holloman Lake. Previously, groundwater tests at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis and Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo showed high concentrations of PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Even in small amounts, exposure to these toxic, human-manufactured chemicals increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer and problems like ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension. PFAS include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
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.
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.
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.
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).
New Mexico In Focus invited NM Political Report’s Laura Paskus to talk about her recent story about the contamination of water under Holloman Air Force Base. The story focused on a U.S. Air Force site inspection report showing contamination from hazardous compounds known as PFAS in groundwater underneath the Air Force base. PFAS—or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of human-made chemicals which includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)—were found at thousands of times the levels deemed safe for humans. According to the report, the groundwater in the area is brackish and not used for drinking water at the base or in nearby communities. See the segment below.
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.
Friday evening in Clovis, the U.S. Air Force is scheduled to host a meeting about groundwater contamination below and near Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico. Details about the meeting were publicly released Tuesday, Nov. 6, on Election Day. This summer, the Air Force announced it was sampling groundwater wells for traces of harmful chemicals found within firefighting foam used at the base from the 1970s until last year. The testing was part of a nationwide effort by the military: 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, that includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
ALAMOGORDO, N.M. — Beginning in mid-January, Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico will become the temporary home for about 400 refugee children from Central America. The Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies are in charge of the program, a result of the recent increase in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the United States. Mike Espritu, director of the Chamber of Commerce in nearby Alamogordo, said local groups are getting ready to assist when the children arrive. “We’ve already had one meeting with some local leaders and it appears the community is willing to do what it can, to do what’s right for the children,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s going to take care of those young people, no matter who they are.”