Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
A relatively new contaminant that might be linked to cancer has been detected in groundwater on and around Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, state environment department officials said Tuesday.
Concentrations of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (known as PFAS) above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s advised limits – in some places up to 371 times above it – have been found in wells located on and off the base, according to a news release from the New Mexico Environment Department and New Mexico Department of Agriculture.
Cannon spokesman JP Rebello said in an email the Air Force Civil Engineer Center informed the base of the contamination in late August.
Two types of PFAS – known as PFOS and PFOA – were present in firefighting foams used at Cannon to extinguish petroleum-based fires, Rebello said.
“The Air Force has replaced legacy firefighting foam at Cannon AFB with a new, more environmentally responsible formula that contains no PFOS and only trace amounts of PFOA,” Rebello said. “Cannon AFB completed the replacement of legacy (firefighting foam) in its fire vehicles with the replacement foam last year.”
Rebello said base drinking water has not been affected.
According to the EPA, PFAS can also be found in nonstick products such as Teflon and household cleaning products.
They may be associated with an increased risk of cancer and accumulate in organisms that consume it.
Bruce Yurdin, NMED deputy secretary, said over the telephone on Tuesday that PFAS have been detected in some of the 19 private wells tested off the base so far, but the Clovis public water supply appears to be uncontaminated.
Some of the 19 off-base wells where PFAS were detected are used for drinking water for dairies.
“Because this is an emerging issue across the nation with minimal available scientific data, the (New Mexico Department of Agriculture) has requested that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration immediately determine if any impacts on health exist, and if so, that the FDA establishes a regulatory threshold for PFAS in dairy products,” the news release said.
The EPA has set a drinking water Human Health Advisory of 70 nanograms per liter for PFOS and PFOA.
According to the NMED, concentrations at some on-base wells base exceeded 26,000 nanograms per liter.
The concentrations in the off-base wells ranged from 25 to 1,600 nanograms per liter.
“We have been in contact with the United States Air Force,” Yurdin said. “We fully intend to hold them accountable for this and we have asked them for several pieces of information and some additional testing, among other things.”
Yurdin said while NMED is focusing on the situation at Cannon, it is speaking with the Air Force about the possibility of contamination at the state’s two other bases, Kirtland and Holloman Air Force Bases.
The Air Force announced in 2016 that it would spend $2 billion to clean up water contaminated with PFAS caused by its operations.