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Contract awarded to analyze plumes

Jan. 20–SANTA FE — The New Mexico Environment Department has awarded a contract to analyze plumes at Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases as an initial step in cleanup of “forever chemicals” PFAS and PFOA at both bases.

Additionally, the NMED announced it would sample drinking water sources across the state to determine if per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are having impacts on other communities.

The department is using much of a $1 million appropriation from the 2020 New Mexico legislative session to hire Daniel B. Stephens and Associations as an environmental consultant. The first step, according to an NMED news release, is to study the size and movement of the groundwater plumes, with cleanup efforts to follow.

Curry County Commission Chairman Robert Thornton told The News he has mixed feelings about the plans.

“I’m glad to see they’re going to start tracking the PFAS contamination in our area,” Thornton said. “I am a little concerned about the idea that the cleanup won’t start until they’re through studying the size and the movement of the plume. That cleanup needs to be moving forward now.”

The manmade chemicals known as PFAS are used in a variety of everyday products, including food packaging and non-stick cooking pans, and contaminated plumes at military installations have been traced to the use of aqueous film forming foams used to extinguish fuel-based fires. The state is currently in litigation with the Department of Defense to ensure the state and affected communities are not left financially responsible for that contamination.

“This is a major step forward in solving the problem handed to New Mexicans by the Defense Department.” NMED Secretary James Kenney said in a department release. “While New Mexicans are paying the bill for this effort today, the state is determined to recoup from the federal government every dollar we spend.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has not established a drinking water standard for the chemicals, but has established a health advisory for PFAS and PFOA at 70 parts per trillion. A part per trillion is roughly estimated as one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Thornton said he has concerns that cleanup actions will be hampered as long as they’re based off of a vague health advisory, and believes the EPA should establish a drinking water standard for PFAS and PFOA contamination.

The statewide sampling effort, which began last year, focuses on water supplies in 19 counties, including 15 public water systems. So far, the sampling data has not indicated any additional public health threats.

If, during the study, levels of PFAS and PFOA are detected in drinking water resources above the health advisory baseline, NMED will work with public water systems to identify the best mitigation options, if requested. Follow-up actions on the results are at the discretion of the water system due to the absence of federal or state regulations specific to PFAS in drinking water.

“The first step toward addressing PFAS contamination in New Mexico is finding out where these chemicals are,” said Rebecca Roose, NMED Water Protection Division director. “We are vigilant in deploying our limited resources to gather the best available data and share it with the public in a transparent way.”

Final results of the sampling will be published by the U.S. Geological Survey in the summer of 2022.


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