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NMED, AG seek quick toxic foam cleanup

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Traffic flows into Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis in this 2012 file photo.

The New Mexico attorney general and the Environment Department have filed a motion asking that the U.S. Air Force be required to quickly clean up contamination from toxic firefighting foam that leaked into the ground on and near Holloman and Cannon Air Force bases.

The preliminary injunction, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, asks the court to compel the Air Force to outline the contamination plume and test groundwater and drinking water. Another demand is that the Air Force provide alternative water sources and voluntary blood tests to those who may have been exposed to the toxic substances.

“I am extremely frustrated that the Air Force has not been responsive to protecting the health and safety of New Mexican families by addressing years of environmental pollution,” state Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement Wednesday. “Because of their delay and failure to act, (Environment Secretary James) Kenney and I are asking the court to ensure timely protection of New Mexico’s people, wildlife, and environment from this ongoing and devastating pollution.”

A call and email to an Air Force spokesman were not immediately returned Wednesday.

The contamination centers on PFAS, or per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances – a group of 4,000 “forever chemicals” that are difficult to break down. The chemicals were in products such as Teflon and 3M’s Scotchgard because they repelled water, oil and stains.

Environmental Protection Agency research links the chemicals to cancer, low infant birth weights and weakened immunity.

Since the 1970s, PFAS were an ingredient in firefighting foam on the nation’s military bases.

Cannon officially announced in October 2018 that PFAS had seeped into groundwater on and around the base. And in February 2019, the Air Force reported PFAS levels at Holloman groundwater monitoring wells at 137 parts per trillion. The EPA’s current drinking water advisory for PFAS is 70 parts per trillion, but that advisory is not enforceable.

Air Force spokesman Mark Kinkade, in response to questions about the contamination earlier this month, said that the branch took immediate action to provide clean water to properties near Cannon where PFAS levels in drinking water tested above the EPA’s lifetime health advisory.

“We provided bottled water at first and have been working with impacted property owners on longer-term, cost effective solutions, such as hooking up to city water or filtration systems,” he said.

Kinkade said that drinking water at Holloman meets the EPA health advisories, so “access to alternate water sources is not an issue.”

“It’s unfortunate that New Mexico is yet again having to fight the federal government to do what’s right,” Environment Secretary Kenney told the Journal earlier this month. “The Air Force does business in New Mexico and brings people here and employs New Mexicans, but then when there is harm to the state, they are unwilling to fix the problem. This seems to be a pattern with federal agencies in our state.”

The state agencies first filed a notice of intent to sue in March, alleging that the Air Force had violated the state’s Hazardous Waste Act. Wednesday’s filing adds a violation of the federal Resource Conservation Recovery Act. The agencies said the request for emergency action would “ensure the health of New Mexicans and the environment are protected as the case proceeds.”

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