New Mexico Wants Air Force Ordered to Clean Up Poisons

White Sands National Monument, near Alamogordo, N.M.

(CN) — New Mexico’s Environment Department and attorney general filed an injunction asking that the U.S. Air Force be compelled to quickly clean up contamination from toxic firefighting foam that lingers in the ground around Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases.

The state sued the Air Force on March 15 this year, claiming that public and private water sources around Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis and Holloman Air Force Base west of Alamogordo had been contaminated with  per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as fluorochemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, PFOA and PFOS, respectively, which are highly water-soluble, mobile, and persistent in the environment.

Toxicology studies have found that the chemicals, generally known as PFCs, are readily absorbed by and accumulate in the human body, with multiple health risks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency links exposure to PFOS and PFOA with testicular and kidney cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis and other conditions.

On Wednesday the state filed an amended complaint and moved for a preliminary injunction, requesting expedited discovery of Air Force documents mapping the contamination, and regular sampling of wells, river water and streams in the areas around the two bases.

The injunction also asks for samplings and surveys of wildlife in the lands around the bases, and that the Air Force provide voluntary blood tests for local residents who want to determine their exposure to the toxic chemicals, and provision of alternative drinking water to residents in the affected areas.

New Mexico isn’t the only state concerned about PFA contamination. In 2016, Colorado sued the manufacturers of a firefighting foam containing PFAS, and in February this year acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler laid out an action plan for national guidelines to reach a maximum contamination limit of PFAS, in keeping with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Air Force spokesman Mark Kinkade told the Albuquerque Journal this month that the Air Force took immediate action to provide clean water to properties near Cannon, where PFAS levels in drinking water tested higher than the EPA’s lifetime health advisory.

“We provided bottled water at first and have been working with impacted property owners on longer-term, cost effective solutions, such as hooking up to city water or filtration systems,” Kinkade said.

But the state’s top environmental officials say that isn’t enough.

“It’s unfortunate that New Mexico is yet again having to fight the federal government to do what’s right,” Environment Secretary James Kenney told the Journal this month.

“The Air Force does business in New Mexico and brings people here and employs New Mexicans, but then when there is harm to the state, they are unwilling to fix the problem. This seems to be a pattern with federal agencies in our state.”

Attorney General Hector Balderas echoed his concerns in a statement Wednesday: “I am extremely frustrated that the Air Force has not been responsive to protecting the health and safety of New Mexican families by addressing years of environmental pollution,” he said.

“Because of their delay and failure to act, Secretary Kenney and I are asking the court to ensure timely protection of New Mexico’s people, wildlife, and environment from this ongoing and devastating pollution.”

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