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

Senator speaks out on water contamination


March 4, 2020

WASHINGTON — Sen. Martin Heinrich expressed disappointment Tuesday with the U.S. Air Force on its work so far in remediating water contamination near Cannon Air Force Base.

Heinrich, speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, addressed Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett in response to comments the Air Force was working with communities experiencing water contamination from the Air Force’s decades-long use of firefighting foams that contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS.

“In the case of Clovis, New Mexico, I am beyond frustrated by the utter lack of communication and any coordination at this point between Air Force leadership and local government elected officials for the city of Clovis,” Heinrich told Barrett. “We recently received a response letter to the entire delegation; it was wholly inadequate. This is a community that has bent over backwards for decades with great pride to host the Air Force in their community, and they feel like they’re getting absolutely stonewalled right now.”

Cannon’s public affairs office declined comment, noting there is pending litigation on the matter.

When told of Heinrich’s comments regarding any Cannon-Clovis impasse Tuesday afternoon, Mayor David Lansford said frustration with the process is inevitable.

“I think part of the reason for the frustration is due to the litigious nature of the situation we are facing,” Lansford said. “The state has filed a lawsuit against the Air Force, and typically as a consequence of that you have a lack of communication. I think as long as that lawsuit is in place and continues, the frustration may continue along with it.”

Clovis City Manager Justin Howalt told The News that although the plume is outside of city limits, "the city of Clovis continues to support both the delegation and the Air Force as they pursue solutions to the remediation of the PFAS plume."

Heinrich asked Barrett for a commitment to direct appropriate Air Force personnel to establish direct communication with Clovis officials to work together and remedy the contamination.

“You have my commitment,” Barrett told Heinrich.

Heinrich also asked about finding a permanent solution for the contamination problem going forward.

“We are doing research now and will continue to do that,” Barrett said. “It is a Navy lead, but the Air Force is working it as well.”

Heinrich said Congress had discussions with Barrett’s predecessor, Heather Wilson, about what the Air Force could and couldn’t do in dealing with PFAS contamination.

“She was very blunt about what she couldn’t do,” Heinrich said. “We changed much of that in the (National Defense Authorization Act), and we’d like to see you use those authorities.”

For decades, PFAS was used in firefighting foam for training exercises on the nation’s military bases, including Cannon. A contaminated plume was reported adjacent to the base in October 2018.

The waterproof nature of PFAS and PFOA make them ideal for products like Teflon and Scotchgard. Their prevalence in products, and their difficulty in breaking down, have led to estimates from the Environmental Working Group that drinking water for up to 110 million Americans may be contaminated to some extent with the chemicals.

Last month, city municipal water provider EPCOR informed customers it detected low amounts of PFAS in 10 wells it has since taken out of commission. EPCOR officials said those wells were not around or associated with CAFB, and it is possible a different contamination source may exist.


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