The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Environment Department provides contamination fact sheet


January 13, 2019

SANTA FE - The New Mexico Environment Department has provided a fact sheet about groundwater contamination surrounding Cannon Air Force Base, but the update provides little new information.

The department issued a notice of violation to the base in late November for failing to take appropriate and timely corrective action to contain and remove or mitigate the damage caused by the release of PFAS and PFOA -substances used in firefighting training areas and other sites.

"A plume of groundwater contaminated with PFAS extends off-Base at least 2 1/2 miles to the southeast, closely following paleochannels in the redbeds that underlie the Ogallala Aquifer," the fact sheet noted. "PFAS have polluted several off-site wells used for irrigation, dairy, and domestic water supply, sometimes at concentrations that greatly exceed the federal lifetime Health Advisory of 70 ng/L. PFAS also have been detected in milk produced by one dairy near CABF causing severe economic impact to that dairy. Public drinking water wells that supply the City of Clovis have been tested and show no detectable PFAS contamination."

The dairy in question is Highland Dairy, owned by Art Schaap, who has made the rounds at numerous public meetings to air concerns about the water supply and the impact to his dairy.

His dairy is now down to a handful of employees, who milk the cows and dump the product. Schaap says he can't sell the milk, or process the cows for meat, because of their ingestion of PFAS and PFOA.

He contends the Air Force needs to rectify the situation because he can't afford the necessary filters for his wells, but has contended the Air Force is "hiding behind the law" and doing only what is statutorily required.

Mark Kinkade, a spokesman with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, said that under CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act), the Air Force is allowed to take actions like providing alternate water supplies to humans.

Kinkade added that the Air Force does not have the legal authority to take actions on behalf of livestock or agricultural products.

"The Air Force's authority to mitigate contamination from pollutants or contaminants (such as PFAS and PFOA) ... applies to unacceptable risks to human beings. However, it does not extend to risks posed to livestock and agriculture, to include indirect threats to humans through ingestion of plants and animals, where there are no regulatory exposure levels that connect ingestion by livestock or agriculture uses to threats to humans through ingestion. Absent an established risk to humans through ingestion of food products or other sources, the Air Force remains focused on protecting human drinking water sources from concentrations that exceed the EPA lifetime health advisories for PFAS and PFAS; the Air Force is not authorized under CERCLA to provide alternate water supplies for livestock and agriculture."

The state's agricultural department has asked the federal Food and Drug Administration establish a standard for addressing the chemicals' concentrations in milk or other foods. Emails sent Thursday to specific spokespeople with the FDA noted only some of its work continues during a government shutdown, and would respond if the query fell under an excepted or exempt category of work. No further communication was received from the FDA on Friday or Saturday.


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