ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A public water utility in Clovis has removed a “handful” of drinking water wells from service after finding levels of toxic “forever chemicals.”
The per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS may have leaked into groundwater supplies from nearby Cannon Air Force Base. For decades, the manmade chemicals were used in firefighting foam for training exercises on the nation’s military bases.
The utility, EPCOR, notified the New Mexico Environment Department and Clovis residents last week of an “extremely low presence” of the chemicals and the decision to temporarily remove fewer than 10 of its 82 wells from service.
“None of the sample results came close to the EPA’s health-based recommended advisory level, and none of the water EPCOR supplies to you comes from the area surrounding the Cannon plume reported in October 2018,” the EPCOR letter to customers reads. “There is no health concern, but we’ve taken extra steps just to be on the safe side.”
The utility said its tests did not detect PFAS chemicals above 70 parts per trillion, which is the lifetime health advisory limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has yet to set a drinking water standard for the chemicals.
The state Environment Department is suing the U.S. Air Force to outline and clean up the contamination at and near Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases.
“We are working diligently across state agencies and with local officials to ensure public health and drinking water resources are protected,” NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said in a statement. “This is our number one priority.”
Last month, NMED levied a $1.7 million penalty on the Air Force for not including PFAS in its discharge permit application at Cannon.
NMED has asked the state Legislature for $1.2 million to map the contamination and create a cleanup strategy.
A bill introduced last week by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, would provide $700,000 for private water well testing for PFAS chemicals in Curry and Roosevelt counties.
The waterproof nature of the chemicals made them ideal for products like Teflon and Scotchgard.
But they are difficult to break down, and the Environmental Working Group estimates that drinking water for up to 110 million Americans may be contaminated with the chemicals.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.