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The U.S. Air Force has spent more than $31 million to address groundwater contamination at Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, base officials said Wednesday.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, leaked into the Ogallala Aquifer on and off base from firefighting foam used in training exercises.
A $16.6 million water treatment pilot project at the base’s southeastern corner is scheduled to begin construction as early as March and would likely begin operating in April 2023.
Christipher Gierke, Cannon’s remedial project manager, said the initial project of three extraction and injection wells and a filtration system is a “big win” for targeting pollution in the aquifer.
“The ultimate goal is that if the (study) shows us that a full scale pump-and-treat system is a viable means for a mitigation option, it will eventually keep any further off-base migration from happening,” Gierke said during a public meeting to discuss community concerns over the contamination.
Water samples collected near the study site from on and off the base showed PFAS levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory.
The EPA has linked PFAS to low birth weights, high cholesterol, immune system damage and some cancers.
Col. Robert Masaitis, commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon, said the 6,000 base members who live in Clovis have a “vested stake in seeing this process move along.”
“I’m not a civil engineer by trade, and I realize this process seems very methodical and deliberate, but it also is a yearslong process,” Masaitis said. “We understand progress can sometimes be at a glacial pace.”
Contractor AECOM/Brice will treat water for the pilot project using granular activated carbon, ion resin exchange and a combination of the two methods.
The Air Force first informed New Mexico agencies of the PFAS plume at Cannon in 2018.
Cannon is still investigating the size and nature of the plume as part of a $10.3 million initiative.
Other remediation costs include a $38,000 preliminary assessment, $2.5 million site inspection and $1.8 million study with the U.S. Geological Survey.
New Mexico is suing the Department of Defense to facilitate quick cleanup of the contamination.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not have enforceable limits on PFAS chemicals, and the New Mexico Environment Department has pushed for federal regulations on the toxins.
The Air Force no longer uses the PFAS-laden foam for training.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.