ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT TO TACKLE PFAS IN NEW MEXICO DRINKING WATER
As part of New Mexico’s efforts to protect communities from per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) is beginning work to address the contamination caused by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)at Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases. In a separate effort, the Environment Department is testing public drinking water sources across the state to determine if PFAS is impacting other communities and fresh water resources. These efforts will assist the Environment Department in determining next steps in identifying and managing PFAS contamination in New Mexico.
PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals used in a variety of products, including food packaging, nonstick pans and aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) used to extinguish fuel-based fires. Growing concerns about PFAS contamination are driven by evidence that exposure to some PFAS chemicals can lead to adverse health effects such as increased cholesterol, reproductive problems and cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has not yet established a drinking water standard for any of the PFAS chemicals, but has established a Lifetime Health Advisory level for two chemicals in the PFAS family – PFOA and PFOS – at 70 parts per trillion. According to the U.S. EPA, someone who drinks water exceeding 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS over a lifetime may suffer adverse health effects.
During the 2020 legislative session, NMED was appropriated $1 million to begin addressing PFAS contamination in the communities of Clovis and Alamogordo. The appropriation was needed given the DOD failed to take appropriate steps to clean up the PFAS contamination it caused through its operations at the Cannon and Holloman installations. The State of New Mexico is engaged in ongoing litigation with the DOD to ensure the State and affected communities are not left financially responsible for environmental contamination caused by DOD. On Jan. 4, 2021, NMED awarded an approximately$1 million contract to environmental consultant Daniel B Stephens & Associates, Inc., to begin addressing the PFAS contamination in Alamogordo and Clovis by further studying the size and movement of the groundwater plumes there. This work must be completed before any clean-up efforts can begin. The work will also include determining whether and to The Environment Department’s mission is to protect and restore the environment and to foster a healthy and prosperous New Mexico for present and future generations. what extent nearby public water systems are impacted as well as area wildlife. PFAS concentrations well above the U.S. EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory are present within these plumes.
This sampling effort –which started in mid-2020 and will continue through mid-2021 – focuses on multiple ground and surface water supplies in 19 New Mexico counties.
If, during the study, levels of PFOS and PFOA are detected in drinking water resources above the Lifetime Health Advisory, NMED will work with public water systems to identify the best mitigation options, if requested.
NMED is conducting the sampling effort with the support of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). USGS will publish a final report of the findings in the summer of 2022. These results will be used to inform NMED’s ongoing strategies and actions to address PFAS contamination in New Mexico, which may include additional sampling, source investigations, and treatment of contaminated water. NMED is also considering, in the continued absence of federal drinking water standards for PFAS, undertaking the resource-intensive process of developing state-specific standards in the coming years as additional data becomes available. PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals because they do not easily degrade in the environment due to their chemical properties. Thus, PFAS can accumulate over time in soil, water, and living organisms and have been found in water sources around the world.
More information on PFAS is available on the U.S. EPA’s website.