Sandia team works to develop a filtration system to remove PFAS from water

A team from Sandia National Laboratories is working on a filtration system that will remove PFAS chemicals from water. “What’s unique about (PFAS chemicals) is that they have a carbon fluorine bond, and that carbon fluorine bond is very strong. So not many things readily break it down,” Andrew Knight, a Sandia chemist, said in an interview with NM Political Report. This strong bond has earned PFAS the nickname “forever chemicals.”

In recent years, the prevalence of PFAS chemicals has received increased attention as more is learned about the potential health impacts of the substances. One of the ways that people can ingest PFAS is through drinking water.

NMED secretary: PFAS drinking water standards are a start, but not a silver bullet for addressing the contamination

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney compared the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed drinking water standards for PFAS to chapter one in a novel. The public comment period for the EPA’s proposed maximum contaminant level for PFAS in drinking water closes on May 30, although there have been calls for the EPA to extend the comment period. Kenney said the EPA released a PFAS strategic roadmap in 2021, which he compared to the table of contents in a book. “The first chapter they’re writing is the drinking water MCL,” he said. At the same time, Kenney expressed surprise about how complex the MCL rulemaking has become.

Report details federal government’s progress in addressing PFAS contamination

An environmental advocacy group says a year after President Joe Biden’s administration announced plans to tackle PFAS pollution, progress has been made but more actions are needed. The Environmental Working Group tracks federal actions to protect communities from PFAS chemicals. Each year, it releases a “report card” looking at those actions. It released this year’s report card on Monday. PFAS chemicals, also called forever chemicals because they degrade slowly in normal environmental conditions, lead to increased risks of certain cancers and have been linked to liver damage, decreased fertility and increased risks of asthma and thyroid disease.

U.S. House passes PFAS Action Act

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 241-182 in favor of legislation that would regulate PFAS. The PFAS Action Act would require federal regulators to establish national drinking water standards for per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances. The legislation would further designate PFAS as hazardous, thus allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated sites. Additionally, the legislation would lead to at least two types of PFAS being classified as hazardous air pollutants and it would limit the introduction of new PFAS chemicals. The PFAS Action Act would also provide $200 million annually to assist water and wastewater utilities.

Report documents PFAS use in fracking in New Mexico

A report indicating that PFAS chemicals have been used in hydraulic fracturing operations in New Mexico “emphasizes how important it is for regulators to know what is in the industrial wastewater,” Maddy Hayden, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Environment Department told NM Political Report in an email. Physicians for Social Responsibility released a report this week that found PFAS chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or chemicals that could break down into PFAS have been used in fracking operations in 1,200 wells in half a dozen states, including New Mexico. PFAS chemicals have a broad range of applications and can be found in household objects including non-stick cookware. In recent years, there has been growing concern about the potential health impacts of these “forever chemicals,” which do not break down under normal environmental conditions. “Ongoing research into uses of PFAS and the prevalence of these persistent chemicals in the environment is essential to support strong regulatory responses at the federal and state levels,” Hayden said.

Governor petitions EPA to list PFAS as hazardous waste

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, to list per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, as hazardous waste under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. “PFAS chemicals present an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment,” she wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan. This letter was included with the petition and is dated June 23. “In the absence of a federal framework, states continue to create a patchwork of regulatory standards for PFAS across the U.S. to address these hazardous chemicals. This leads to inequity in public health and environmental protections,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release.

NMED secretary says federal regulations are needed for PFAS

Toxic chemicals that do not break down in the environment have been threatening water sources nationwide, witnesses told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works during a hearing on Wednesday. Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, have received attention in New Mexico and nationwide as they were used in firefighting foam at two air force bases. This contamination has migrated from the military bases and led to water contamination at a dairy farm near Clovis in eastern New Mexico. While these chemicals can lead to cancer as well as other health effects, there are no federal rules regulating them. That needs to change, according to New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney who told the committee that a federal regulatory framework is needed for PFAS.

NMED investigates size of PFAS plumes

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.

NMED beings PFAS cleanup without military help

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) selected a contractor to begin clean up efforts for PFAS contamination identified at two Air Force bases in the state. The U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) use of a firefighting foam that contained PFAS compounds during training exercises caused the contamination. The foam was not properly disposed of for decades at the Holloman and Cannon Air Force bases, leading to groundwater contamination at both sites. 

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 contamination at Holloman and Cannon Air Force bases was first disclosed to NMED by the DOD in 2018. But the DOD has refused to clean up the contamination, which is currently threatening at least one commercial dairy farmer and a handful of private well owners. 

RELATED: Concerned leaders hopeful Biden administration will address PFAS contamination

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and NMED filed a complaint in federal district court in March 2019, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to act on cleanup. The state also filed a preliminary injunction in federal court to get the Air Force to regularly test groundwater and surface waters, provide alternate water sources for those affected and provide voluntary blood tests for those who may have been exposed to the toxic chemicals. 

Meanwhile, the state Legislature allocated roughly $1 million to NMED to begin the clean up while the state’s litigation against the DOD plays out in court. 

NMED awarded a $1 million contract to environmental consultant Daniel B Stephens & Associates earlier this month to begin addressing the contamination.

EPA announces ‘interim strategy’ for addressing PFAS in wastewater

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released what it’s calling an “interim strategy” for addressing PFAS chemical contamination in wastewater discharges regulated through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting process. While the vast majority of states in the U.S. have taken over NPDES permitting authority from EPA since the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, New Mexico is one of only three states that still rely on EPA to handle NPDES permitting. 

RELATED: Group says it will sue EPA over stormwater pollution in Los Alamos

The new PFAS guidance recommends EPA permit writers “consider including PFAS monitoring at facilities where these chemicals are expected to be present in wastewater discharges, including from municipal separate storm sewer systems and industrial stormwater permits.”

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, refer to a family of at least 600 synthetic compounds that are widely used in commercial products ranging from fire-resistant carpeting to fast-food wrappers. 

Research has linked exposure to the chemicals to a long list of health concerns, including increased risks for certain types of cancers, increased cholesterol, pregnancy complications and other health impacts. A recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health linked exposure to PFAS chemicals in infants to a decreased immune response to vaccinations at five years old. RELATED: Concerned leaders hopeful Biden administration will address PFAS contamination

The synthetic compounds have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they are not easily broken down. And research over the past 20 years indicates these chemicals are ubiquitous, according to David Andrews, senior scientist at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.