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State environment department accuses Air Force of violating Water Quality Act

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The U.S. Air Force is violating the state’s Water Quality Act by failing to properly respond to contaminated groundwater discovered on and around eastern New Mexico’s Cannon Air Force Base, the state contends.

The New Mexico Environment Department issued a Notice of Violation to the Air Force late last week, requiring it to take specific actions in regards to the contamination, including sampling more wells and producing a plan to investigate the extent of the problem.

“NMED is requiring swift action from Cannon Air Force Base to comply with specific requirements of New Mexico law to protect human health and the environment,” the NMED said in a news release issued Tuesday.

If the Air Force does not comply within 30 days, it faces fines of up to $15,000 a day.

The Air Force did not respond to a request for comment from the Journal.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of possibly carcinogenic chemicals contained in a firefighting foam once used at Cannon Air Force Base.

In August, the Air Force notified the NMED that high concentrations had been discovered in groundwater on and around the base.

The Air Force has tested dozens of private wells around the base. PFAS levels in three were above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.

Two of those wells supply dairies.

The NMED said in a letter sent Nov. 30 to the Air Force Civil Engineer Center that it has failed to sample all water supply wells within a four-mile area outside the base.

The NMED claims the Air Force has also failed to submit a proposal to investigate the extent of groundwater contamination coming off the base.

The state agency is requesting that the Air Force identify and produce a timeline of corrective measures for affected dairies, “including water hauling and water treatment of contaminated well sources for both livestock and irrigation of crops.”

PFAS are known to bioaccumulate in organisms that consume them.

The NMED is also requesting an evaluation of the possibility of installing treatment systems on contaminated wells.