Mar 07, 2019

New Mexico Sues U.S. Air Force Over PFAS Contamination

The state argues the federal government should cleanup the groundwater contamination

New Mexico files suit against Air Force over groundwater contamination
New Mexico files suit against Air Force over groundwater contamination

On March 5, the state of New Mexico filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force over groundwater contamination at two bases, arguing the federal government is responsible to cleanup toxic groundwater plumes created by firefighting foam used on the sites. The per- and polyfluoralkyl substance (PFAS) contaminations was discovered last year in groundwater surrounding the Cannon and Holloman air bases.

According to The Associated Press, New Mexico regulators first issued a notice of violation to the Air Force last year for failing to address the contamination. The state considers the groundwater contamination to be an immediate threat to the communities it impacts.

"In the absence of cooperation by the Air Force, the New Mexico Environment Department will move swiftly and decisively to ensure protections for both public health and the environment," said Environment Secretary James Kenney. “Today we begin holding them accountable.”

While the Air Force declined to comment on the lawsuit, they argued their response to PFAS contamination elsewhere has been aggressive. According to The Santa Fe New Mexico, PFAS in the groundwater surrounding the two New Mexico bases has been found at several hundred to several thousand times higher than health advisory levels.

The groundwater contamination has begun to spread across the Ogallala Aquifer and threatens New Mexico’s booming dairy industry. For Art Schaap’s Highland Dairy, the groundwater contamination means dumping 15,000 gal of milk a day, euthanizing 4,000 cows and battling his own potential health risks, reported Searchlight New Mexico. Schaap only learned in August 2018 that his property was impacted by the emerging contaminant groundwater pollution.

The Holloman base borders Alamogordo, a 31,00 resident town that relies on groundwater within the Tularosa Basin. While base officials have identified five known sites where the chemicals were released, drinking water comes from well fields located 12 to 35 miles from the installation. Those wells have been tested and proved free of contamination.