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None of the 57 private water wells sampled in Curry and Roosevelt counties showed unsafe levels of PFAS, the toxic “forever chemicals” that leaked from firefighting foam used at Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis.
The New Mexico Environment Department worked with the U.S. Geological Survey from April to June to sample agricultural and drinking water wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
The state Legislature funded the $100,000 testing program in 2020.
“This (data gathering) effort equips regulators, residents and businesses with critical information about the safety of our water supply and adds to our growing body of knowledge about the presence of these harmful chemicals in eastern New Mexico,” said state Environment Secretary James Kenney.
Nine wells had low concentrations of PFAS chemicals that are well within other states’ safety standards, according to results released Monday.
The remaining 48 wells detected no PFAS.
No tests detected PFOA or PFOS, two types of PFAS compounds with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.
The chemicals’ strong bonds are ideal for waterproofing agents and non-stick pans. But PFAS remain in the bloodstream indefinitely.
The EPA links exposure to low birth weights, high cholesterol and certain cancers.
John Kern, director of the community group Clean Water Partnership at Cannon, which helped recruit some landowners to have their wells tested, said the state study is a “good starting point.”
But military and state agencies should not take the sampling as a sign that cleanup can wait, Kern said, and should do “more methodical” testing of water and residents’ blood.
“Because that’s the real issue … not just how PFAS has shown up in a glass of tap water, but how it could have affected the residents here physically,” Kern said.
NMED results were announced the same day the EPA released a strategy to address PFAS pollution.
The federal agency will move toward enforceable drinking water standards for the chemicals and restrict industrial PFAS discharges into waterways.
Both Kenney and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have asked the government to list PFAS as a hazardous waste.
“My state needs this designation in order to act quickly and protect its citizens, its water, its economy, and its environment from further contamination by this state’s largest PFAS polluters,” Lujan Grisham wrote in a June letter to the EPA.
The state is suing the Department of Defense over the contamination at Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.