4 Investigates: State blames Air Force in major poisoning of groundwater
August 07, 2019 09:22 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Chemicals used by the U.S. Air Force have contaminated water in two areas of New Mexico for more than 30 years. The situation is so alarming to New Mexico state leaders, the New Mexico Attorney General and NM Environment Secretary sued the Air Force, demanding immediate cleanup.
Beginning in the 1960’s, the Air Force used firefighting foam with polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The makeup of the molecules of PFAS bond in such a way that repel water, grease, oils and fuels. For this reason, the Air Force found it effective combating fires containing jet fuel. Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases have long histories of missions involving aircraft and PFAS foam was routinely used for decades for both real life fires and trainings.
Over time, the PFAS foam seeped into the ground and the chemicals mixed into water sources. Near Cannon Air Force Base, ground water used for drinking water has tested positive for PFAS.
Art Schaap owns a dairy in Clovis directly south of the Cannon AFB flight line. He owns 2,000 cows that are now producing milk with PFAS. The PFAS plume around Cannon AFB encompasses the dairy. In October 2018, the milk and meat in Schaap’s cattle tested positive for PFAS.
“When the Air Force said my water was positive for PFAS and that they had to put me on bottled water, that hit me like a tornado,” Schaap said.
New Mexico Secretary James Kenney helped to assemble a team to understand the impacts of the contamination in early 2019.
“A number of health effects have been documented,” Kenney said. “Like it stays in your blood for a long period of time. It does not metabolize out. Once it's in you, it's in you for a while. There is a range of issues it can cause from low infant birth rate to testicular and other types of cancers.”
“When the value of your land is worth zero, your cows are worth zero, you have nothing to sell, what do you have? You have nothing,” said Schaap.
Each day, Schaap is forced to dump 15,000 gallons of milk down the drain because his entire Clovis-based dairy has been quarantined.
“Do you worry that the milk you had been selling before you knew of the contamination was consumed by people?” 4 Investigator Chris Ramirez asked Schaap.
“Yeah,” Schaap replied. “That's why when I found out we had PFAS in the water, I went to the Agriculture Department in New Mexico and asked them to check my milk. I know milk goes to those places. That was my biggest concern.”
Holloman Lake sits south of Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo. According to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a recent testing of the water showed dangerously high levels of PFAS. Photos taken by the State Environment Department show foam in the surface water has washed to the lake’s shore.
“We had been receiving complaints that people in the community were having adverse effects in that part of the state of New Mexico,” Balderas said. “There needs to be a full cleanup and there needs to be compensation for the people who are harmed due to these lawful acts.”
A Holloman AFB Spokesperson sent an email stating base leaders have met with community stakeholders and nearby neighbors. The spokesperson added Alamogordo and Holloman AFB’s drinking water has not been contaminated. A spokesperson at Cannon AFB referred to a spokesperson in San Antonio who did not respond to our questions.
Updated: August 07, 2019 09:22 AM
Created: August 05, 2019 03:20 PM
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