Feb 19, 2019

PFAS Groundwater Contamination Threatens New Mexico Dairies

One farm is forced to dump 15,000 gal of milk per day due to groundwater contamination

Groundwater contamination threatens New Mexico dairies
Groundwater contamination threatens New Mexico dairies

New Mexico dairies face groundwater contamination stemming from per- and polyfluoralkyl substance (PFAS) pollution that originated at the Cannon Air Force Base and is spreading. The groundwater plume 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.

“This has poisoned everything I’ve worked for and everything I care about,” Schaap said. “I can’t sell the milk. I can’t sell the beef. I can’t sell the cows. I can’t sell crops or my property. The Air Force knew they had contamination. What I really wonder is, why didn’t they say something?”

For Curry County, where Schaap’s dairy is located, the groundwater contamination could have lasting effects. The county generates more than $1.3 billion annually due to the agricultural industry and is one of the nation’s top milk produces, with more than 86,000 milk cows and 25 dairies that sell nearly 8 billion lb of milk around the country. The aquifer that serves it, the Ogallala Aquifer, is one of the largest in the nation at 174,000 miles and touching parts of eight states.

According to Searchlight New Mexico, Air Force scientists discovered groundwater contamination near Schaap’s dairy as early as July 2017, but failed to notify the landowner. While the discovery was reported to the New Mexico Environment Department, it was not shared with surrounding landowners. Additionally, when the Air Force tested Schaap’s water on Aug. 28, 2018, one well tested at 12,000 ppt–171 times  the U.S. EPA health advisory level of 70 ppt.

“This is a national contamination crisis at this point, and we’ve really only scratched the surface in understanding how large of an impact it’s having on health, both in highly contaminated communities like Clovis and across our entire population,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group.

For Schaap, who has lost his livelihood and potentially health, he is concerned that he may have unknowingly distributing contaminated milk across the country for years. In response, the Air Force has said they are working to address the contamination.

“I really want to emphasize this: our focus is drinking water for human consumption–not for agriculture, not for anything else,” said Air Force Spokesman Mark Kinkade.