Water concerns affecting local dairy
Last updated 11/13/2018 at 8:45pm
CLOVIS - Ryan Schaap isn't crying over spilt milk - he's "furious."
The manager of Highland Dairy told The News this week his operation has lost about 15,000 gallons of milk daily since the Air Force advised the water serving the farm in southern Curry County was contaminated with chemicals associated with past military firefighting activities.
The cows still need to be milked but nobody will buy their wares, imperiling the dairy and its 40 employees, Schaap said.
"There is no one, at this current moment, who will take our milk, making the future look depressing," Schaap said in a statement sent Monday to The News. "The level of toxins are too high for several opportunities for us that have now been closed. Dairy plants do not want our milk. Packing plants do not want our beef cows. Our crops that we feed to our animals as well as our land have also been infected by this PFOS poison."
Schaap referred to chemicals identified broadly as Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), contained in a firefighting foam used for training exercises at Cannon Air Force Base and other locations. After the EPA in 2016 established a lifetime health advisory for certain PFAS concentrations exceeding 70 parts per trillion, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) commenced testing impacted locations; it recently reported that three out of 25 private wells in an area southeast of the base had been contaminated after the chemicals leaked into the ground.
Among those affected, Schaap said, are his family and his business. He said the water at his dairy and farm were found to be 35 and 200 times the EPA limit, respectively, while water at his parents' home tested 10 times the limit.
Consistent with a New Mexico Environment Department recommendation in September that those whose wells might be impacted use only bottled water for drinking and cooking, Schaap said the Air Force has "agreed to temporarily supply bottled water for (his) family and employees."
But Schaap says that's not enough - as NMED's chief scientist explained in a Clovis town hall with other state and federal agencies last week, PFAS chemicals can bioaccumulate, making their way from water into crops, livestock and other products. The problem is that a standard for those chemicals' hazards in food and animals hasn't been established in the same way it has for drinking water; they are "emerging" contaminants and need further research.
They need further research, though they have been used in firefighting foams since 1970, and dairy purchasers refusing to buy Schaap's milk seem to have already established their own standards.
NMED's communications director told The News last month that the state Department of Agriculture has requested of the FDA a standard that they can use for addressing the chemicals' concentrations in milk or other foods. Military officials told The News last week that their hands were tied until then, in the way of offering compensation for contamination to crops, cows or other food.
"I don't have the authority, the fiscal authority, to obligate funds to do that," AFCEC's Brian Howard said in an interview.
So what will it take to empower them? AFCEC's public affairs representative Mark Kinkade said it requires an "appropriately promulgated standard," which "comes from somebody other than us.
"We don't set the standards, we just execute to the standards that are out there," he continued. "Right now what's in front of us is dealing with drinking water here at Cannon Air Force Base."
Schaap said he's heard as much in the way of an explanation, but it doesn't help his situation one drop.
"Cannon must take responsibility of this problem and stop hiding behind the curtain of government," he wrote. "While we're grateful that the Air Force is paying attention to drinking water, we're furious that they don't acknowledge the threat to our dairy, our business and our livelihood."
The base's chief of media operations referred questions Tuesday to AFCEC.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS chemicals may pose in humans an increased risk of cancer, hormonal and reproductive issues, among other hazards. Schaap believes long-term exposure to those chemicals may be to account for sub-optimal health and milk yield among his cows in 30 years at the dairy. He insists on more from the parties responsible.
"If the situation were reversed and we were contaminating Cannon's water supply, we would be held responsible for the polluted water," he wrote. "Agriculture is highly regulated and expected to comply with several agencies on food safety and water quality. We would appreciate the same treatment."