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MON: Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law, + More

A water quality sampler from the U.S. Geological Survey collects PFAS samples in the Rio Grande in Alameda, New Mexico.
Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
A water quality sampler from the U.S. Geological Survey collects PFAS samples in the Rio Grande in Alameda, New Mexico.

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law - By Hannah Grover, New Mexico Political Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS.

PFOA is the chemical that DuPont formerly used to make Teflon while PFOS was used as an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. According to the Environmental Working Group, which has advocated for PFAS regulation and cleanup, those products were phased out in the United States due to concerns about health risks.

“The rule will finally hold PFAS polluters accountable,” Melanie Benesh, EWG’s vice president for government affairs, said in a press release. “It ensures that polluters, not taxpayers, bear the cost of cleaning up these toxic forever chemicals.”

While PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, the American Cancer Society says people can still be exposed to them because they are still used in other countries and may be imported in products manufactured in other countries.

The EPA says the classification of the two chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, will make it easier to ensure the parties responsible for PFAS contamination pay to clean it up.

The designation comes as part of the EPA’s efforts to address PFAS contamination, which started with the launch of a PFAS strategic roadmap in 2021.

Some wastewater utilities and landfills have expressed concern that the new designation will lead to them being forced to pay for PFAS contamination from waste products that enter their systems.

Because of those concerns, the EPA issued a separate CERCLA enforcement discretion policy.

“EPA will focus on holding responsible entities who significantly contributed to the release of PFAS into the environment, including parties that manufactured PFAS or used PFAS in the manufacturing process, federal facilities, and other industrial parties,” this policy states. “EPA does not intend to pursue entities where equitable factors do not support seeking response actions or costs under CERCLA, including, but not limited to, community water systems and publicly owned treatment works, municipal separate storm sewer systems, publicly owned/operated municipal solid waste landfills, publicly owned airports and local fire departments, and farms where biosolids are applied to the land.”

Addressing PFAS contamination is also part of President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, which aims to reduce the rates of cancer.

Dr. Tracey Woodruff is the director of the University of California San Francisco’s Program on Reproductive Health and Environment and a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences as well as the director of the Environmental Research and Translation for Health, or EaRTH Center at UCSF.

She said in a press release that the designation is “another important step by EPA to protect people and communities from harmful PFAS chemicals, including legacy PFAS contamination across the U.S.”

In New Mexico, PFAS chemicals have been documented in rivers downstream from urban areas and in groundwater near military bases and airports.

In a statement, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney said his agency applauds the EPA for “taking important steps to protect people from the health risks posed by PFOA and PFOS in communities across the nation.”

However, Kenney said more actions are needed to protect New Mexicans from PFAS.

“In New Mexico, communities will not be safe from PFAS pollution until the U.S. Department of Defense commits to following rules and taking responsibility for cleaning up the groundwater around their Air Force Bases,” he said, referencing groundwater contamination near bases that has led to legal disputes between the Department of Defense and the state.

PFAS chemicals are prevalent throughout the world due to their widespread use. They can be found in nonstick cookware, upholstery, carpets, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, fire suppression foams and other places.

“The science is clear that PFAS chemicals are linked to a wide range of health harms including cancer, damage to cardiovascular and immune systems, poor pregnancy outcomes, and effects on the developing child,” Woodruff said. “By listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund Law, it means that these chemicals will have to be cleaned up from hazardous waste sites and polluters must pay the bill. This is great news for the many communities grappling with PFAS contamination – many of which are also low income and communities of color. This is another step toward protecting people from the health harms of this well-known toxic chemical.”

Liz Hitchcock, the director of the federal policy program of Toxic-Free Future known as Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, described the designation as “an important step forward that will go a long way toward holding PFAS polluters accountable and beginning to clean up contaminated sites across the country.”

But, Hitchcock said in a press release, more needs to be done. She said the “full class of PFAS” should be designated as hazardous. There are nearly 15,000 PFAS chemicals, which are man-made substances that don’t break down easily in natural environments.

Hitchcock said that further pollution should be prevented by ending the use of PFAS in common products.

“President Biden understands the threat that ‘forever chemicals’ pose to the health of families across the country. That’s why EPA launched its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, a whole-of-agency approach to protecting public health and addressing the harm to communities overburdened by PFAS pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a press release. “Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow EPA to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities.”

The designation of the two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances comes on the back of the EPA setting drinking water standards for some of the more common PFAS chemicals earlier this month, including PFOA and PFOS.

Meanwhile, researchers at places like Sandia National Laboratories are looking for cost-effective ways to remove PFAS chemicals from drinking water.

Missed deadlines lead to $11.5M veto, upending plans for UNM public health school - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

New Mexico’s flagship research university missed two deadlines to ask for state money to establish an accredited school of public health within the next year to deal with infectious disease pandemics.

The lapse means the UNM Health Sciences Center will not receive $11.5 million for the school, placing in limbo any recent progress to establish the program. This includes potentially losing some of the 21 people hired as faculty since 2022, state senator Martin Hickey (D-Albuquerque) said Thursday during a tense exchange with the state’s top higher education official.

“The reason we need to address this today, rather than later on, is that the new faculty — knowing that there is no funding — are looking for jobs elsewhere,” Hickey said. “And they’re getting offers, because they’re really good, new faculty.”

While there is a College of Population Health at the University of New Mexico, it is not an accredited school of public health, according to the agency responsible for evaluating schools of public health in the U.S.

Last winter officials at the UNM Health Sciences Center said the COVID-19 pandemic proved that the state needed a school for students to study public health. In part, they said in a presentation to the New Mexico Higher Education Department, the school would “assist public health offices in working together in an organized way to address pandemics, track and forecast rates of disease.”

The $11.5 million was approved by the legislature to keep that investment moving, and it was cut by a governor’s veto due to an administrative failure by the groups responsible for working together.

On Thursday in front of the Legislative Finance Committee, Hickey and higher education secretary Stephanie Rodriguez disagreed about whether UNM officials met the deadline last fall for turning in their funding request for the public health school.

Hickey said UNM “did request that this money be funded during the summer,” however, spokespeople for both UNM and the higher education department said they didn’t ask for the money until December.

The most recent state budget lawmakers sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham included $11.5 million for a UNM School of Public Health to be spent over the next three years.

The money “would then create the foundation where the school could become certified as a school of public health,” Hickey said.

However, Lujan Grisham on March 6 vetoed the money because it was “not requested as a Research and Public Service Project or a special appropriation.”

The UNM Health Sciences Center, which oversees the college, did not turn in a Research and Public Service Project request to the department by the Sept. 15, 2023 deadline, a Higher Education Department spokesperson confirmed via email on Thursday.

Henry Valdez, a spokesperson for the state Department of Finance Administration, said UNM also didn’t submit a “special appropriation” for the public health school to that agency by their Oct. 2, 2023 deadline.

Christopher Ramirez, a spokesperson for the UNM Health Sciences Center, said they asked the Legislative Finance Committee for the money — not the Higher Education Department — in December.

“We understand the budget process is a collaboration and believe that there is consensus that this is a critical project for New Mexico to serve our citizens and communities,” Ramirez said in a written statement on Friday. “We are deeply appreciative to our executive and legislative bodies for their support and look forward to bringing this initiative to fruition.”

Secretary Rodriguez said UNM didn’t meet with her staff to discuss the funding request until December. That meeting happened on Dec. 7 at her offices in Santa Fe and was “the first time the department had seen information on the need or request for additional funding to support the College of Population Health,” said department spokesperson Stephanie Montoya.

Rodriguez said she has told UNM officials “time and time again” she wants a plan for the school.

“I want to truly understand what this program — public health or population health, whatever they are saying now — what are you going to do? What is your plan of action?” she asked. “I’ve heard things here and there, but I have not seen pen to paper.”

Hickey said “several sources at the University” spoke with Rodriguez about the school of public health.

“You and I have had conversations about the school of public health several times — the building and the program,” Hickey said. “The plan for the school has always been there.”

A spokesperson for the governor on Thursday referred all questions to the New Mexico Higher Education Department.

‘They’ve uprooted their lives’

UNM and New Mexico State University in October 2022 launched a cooperative PhD program in health equity sciences, which UNM later called a “first step” toward getting an accredited public health school.

Also in 2022, Lujan Grisham signed into law a state budget which included $10 million for “salaries, operations, program development and a space utilization study for a school of public health” at UNM. It also included $5 million for the same purposes at New Mexico State University.

“The governor approved that bill to get a legitimate school of public health,” Hickey said Thursday.

Dr. Tracie Collins, dean of the UNM College of Population Health and former New Mexico health secretary, told lawmakers during the most recent session she used the money to hire 21 new faculty.

Ramirez, the UNM HSC spokesperson, said these hires were made “with the understanding that additional funds would be needed to sustain the initiative.”

“We recruited them here, they’ve uprooted their lives to come to New Mexico, and we need to be able to sustain them as we’re building up the grant funding,” Collins told the Senate Education Committee in January.

But according to the 2022 budget law, the money is only in place through the current state fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

At the same time, UNM officials are anticipating the public health program to have a budget shortfall of $1.5 million, and even larger annual deficits of $5.7 million in the next two years, according to information UNM gave to a legislative analyst in January.

Hickey asked Rodriguez how she will help him assure the UNM Board of Regents, Collins, and the faculty they will get the money “one way or the other.”

“If they don’t hear this by June, then they will leave,” Hickey said. “And that will essentially preclude New Mexico from ever being able to have a reputation as a place to go in public health. Maybe we could start a school, maybe we couldn’t, but again, it would really stain the reputation of New Mexico in support of that, in something that is so well-needed.”

City seeks input on food ordinance changes - Rodd Cayton, City Desk ABQ 

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department is seeking the public’s input as the city prepares to update its food service and retail ordinance.

Stakeholders and interested parties have the opportunity to review the draft ordinance and accompanying rules document and provide input.

The updated ordinance will replace the city’s existing food safety laws ordinances. The new ordinance is expected to deliver significant benefits to the food industry and consumers at large, according to a news release from the Environmental Health Department.

“We want to make sure that people who feel like this impacts them have an opportunity to weigh in on the ordinance before it’s finalized,” said Mark DiMenna, the department’s deputy director. “Working with food service providers helps us to ensure the highest level of food safety protection for our community.”

The current food sanitation ordinance dates back to 2010, said Maia Rodriguez, the department’s marketing manager, while other ordinances in the suite “haven’t been touched since 1974.”

Rodriguez said the market-food and raw milk rules were passed within the last two years.

The draft of the comprehensive ordinance includes provisions that would:

  • Have the city adopt the 2022 U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code, which includes new language related to food donations, allergen labeling requirements and other topics. The city currently operates on the 2009 version of the FDA Food Code.
  • Establish guidelines for eateries to allow patrons’ pet dogs in outdoor dining areas. The proposed rules would require dogs to be leashed and under their owners’ control at all times.
  • Update the permit and fee structure, grading of food establishments and enforcement guidelines that include civil penalties and criminal penalties and compliance plans.

The City Council is expected to take up the new ordinance at its May 6 meeting; if passed, it would go into effect this fall.

WHEN: May 6 at 5 p.m.
WHERE: Vincent E. Griego Chambers on the basement level of the Albuquerque Government Center.
VIRTUAL: The meetings are broadcast on GOV-TV and the City Council’s YouTube channel.

Albuquerque residents may soon see water rate hike - Tierna Unruh-Enos,City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

Your water rates may soon be going up.

Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority will be asking for a 12% rate increase. The water utility staff presented their Fiscal Year 2025 budget to the governing board asking for a water and sewage rate increase at their meeting held Wednesday


The combined water and sewer rates for the average single-family residential customer (who uses 5,000 gallons of water per month) is about $50.

Right now, the rate increase is just a proposal, but if approved, it would mean base rates would go up by 12%. The combined water and sewer rates per household would increase to about $56.

“Affordability is always a priority for us,” said Board Chair Eric Olivas. “The reality we face, however, is that operational costs have risen significantly. Fuel, power and chemicals are more expensive, and construction costs are running as much as 70% higher than anticipated in some cases.”

The board has until May 8 to approve the proposed increase. If approved, the rate hike would go into effect on July 1, and residents would see the increase on their August bill.

The last water rate increase by the Water Authority was in 2022.

Cannabis seizures at checkpoints by US-Mexico border frustrate state-authorized pot industry - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The U.S. Border Patrol is asserting its authority to seize cannabis shipments — including commercial, state-authorized supplies — as licensed cannabis providers file complaints that more than $300,000 worth of marijuana has been confiscated in recent months at highway checkpoints in southern New Mexico.

New Mexico's Democratic governor says the disruptions prompted a discussion this week with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whose impeachment charges were dismissed this week. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she voiced concerns that the scrutiny of cannabis companies appears to be greater in New Mexico than states with regulated markets that aren't along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Authorized cannabis sales in New Mexico have exceeded $1 billion since regulation and taxation of the recreational market began two years ago. Yet cannabis transport drivers say they have been detained hours while supplies are seized at permanent Border Patrol checkpoints that filter inbound traffic for unauthorized migrants and illegal narcotics, typically located about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the U.S. border.

"Secretary Mayorkas assured the governor that federal policies with respect to legalized cannabis have not changed," said Lujan Grisham spokesperson Michael Coleman in an email. "Regardless, the governor and her administration are working on a strategy to protect New Mexico's cannabis industry."

Managers at 10 cannabis businesses including transporters last week petitioned New Mexico's congressional delegation to broker free passage of shipments, noting that jobs and investments are at stake, and that several couriers have been sidelined for "secondary inspection" and fingerprinted at Border Patrol checkpoints.

"We request that operators who have had product federally seized should be allowed to either get their product returned or be monetarily compensated for the losses they've sustained," the letter states.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said the Department of Homeland Security should be focused on urgent priorities that don't include cannabis suppliers that comply with state law.

"Stopping the flow of illicit fentanyl into our country should be the Department of Homeland Security's focus at these checkpoints, not seizing cannabis that's being transported in compliance with state law," the senator said in a statement, referring to the parent agency for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. "New Mexicans are depending on federal law enforcement to do everything they can to keep our communities safe. Our resources should be used to maximize residents' safety, not distract from it."

A public statement Thursday from the U.S. Border Patrol sector overseeing New Mexico provided a reminder that cannabis is still a "Schedule 1" drug, a designation also assigned to heroin and LSD.

"Although medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in some U.S. States and Canada, the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana or the facilitation of the aforementioned remain illegal under U.S. federal law," the agency's statement said. "Consequently, individuals violating the Controlled Substances Act encountered while crossing the border, arriving at a U.S. port of entry, or at a Border Patrol checkpoint may be deemed inadmissible and/or subject to, seizure, fines, and/or arrest."

Matt Kennicott, an owner of Socorro-based High Maintenance, a cannabis business, said seizures by Border Patrol started in February without warning and create uncertainty about shipments that include samples for consumer-safety testing. He said cannabis producers in southernmost New Mexico rely on testing labs farther north, on the other side of Border Patrol checkpoints, to comply with safeguards against contaminants like mold or pesticides.

"It's not a little confusing, it's a lot confusing," he said. "We're trying to figure out where this directive came from."

New Mexico extends Medicaid for seniors and people with disabilities - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

The New Mexico Human Services Department announced yesterday that it has extended Medicaid coverage for certain seniors and people with disabilities for another year. The state’s change follows federal approval.

Medicaid patients living in intermediate care and nursing home facilities, as well as those enrolled in certain waiver programs, are eligible, according to the department. Those include the Developmental Disabilities Waiver, Mi Via Waiver, Supports Waiver, Medically Fragile Waiver, and Community Benefit.

HSD spokesperson Tim Fowler says the extension applies to about 280 members overall, who he described as “the most vulnerable” among New Mexico’s Medicaid population.

The extension applies automatically, according to the agency, and will add 12 months to a person’s coverage starting from their last renewal date. Members will get a letter from HSD confirming their extension.

The agency says in the announcement that those whose coverage renews next month or later will not receive the extension. Neither will patients whose coverage expired because they didn’t return their renewal packets or other required documents.

HSD asks those who do not receive the extension who believe they should to contact their agency.

State lawmakers and budget experts float lowering savings targets in next year’s budget - By Patrick Lohmann,Source New Mexico

State finance experts and the New Mexico House budget committee chair said in a meeting this week that they will recommend moving more money out of the state’s reserve funds at the 2025 legislative session, citing strong revenue forecasts and what they called wise investments of budget surpluses in recent years.

New Mexico’s newly enacted budget has more than $3.2 billion in several state savings accounts. That equals 32.2% of the $10.2 billion budget lawmakers passed in February. Most of that – $2.3 billion – is held in the restrictive “rainy day” fund, which can’t be spent without a governor-declared revenue shortfall or approval by two-thirds of state lawmakers.

Before the 2024 legislative session, state lawmakers set a target of keeping reserves at 30% of the annual operating budget. That figure was based on estimates of how much savings New Mexico needs to withstand a sudden downtown in oil and gas prices or a moderate recession.

But Rep. Nathan Small (D-Las Cruces), chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said at an interim finance committee meeting Wednesday that it is time to lower that target for next year’s budget. The reserve targets were 20 to 25% in the 2020 and 2021 sessions.

Small cited the other funding sources that the Legislature has created in recent years, like the Early Childhood Trust Fund and a newly created trust that pays for three-year pilot programs for state agencies. That money should also be considered reserve savings, he said, to prevent tax increases or layoffs if oil prices drop or the economy falters.

“I think it follows very naturally and quite appropriately that we must consider the appropriate reserve target for this state,” he said. “And that, frankly, is no longer 30%.”

Charles Sallee, director of the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee, presented lawmakers with a 180-page budget wrapup that made a similar recommendation. He noted that the state created a number of new funds that act as backups for the reserves and said lawmakers should consider revising its savings targets “given all the money that we’ve socked away in other areas of the budget.”

Reserves remain at 32% despite lawmakers recently transferring out nearly $1 billion for a higher education trust fund, which pays for tuition-free college, and the nearly $400 million tobacco settlement fund. Sallee said Wednesday that the tobacco fund was never really a source of emergency cash amid downturns.

Small said he anticipates much discussion – “as is appropriate” – on the topic as the Legislature gets closer to next year. The reserve targets are often thetopic of debate along party lines. Rep. Brian Baca (R-Los Lunas) said at the meeting that he thought the budget shouldn’t budge from the 30% reserve mark.

“I do support us keeping and maintaining high reserves,” he said. “When we’re looking at the possible downturns… I would be one that would support us not going below 30. And, if possible, even increasing that amount.”

New Mexico lawmakers expect to have more discussion on the matter in July.

Navajo Nation Vice President Richelle Montoya alleges sexual harassment on the job - Arizona Republic, KUNM News

Navajo Nation Vice President Richelle Montoya, the first woman to serve in the office, told hundreds of viewers during a Facebook Live stream Tuesday night that she was sexually harassed last August during a meeting.

As Arlyssa D Becenti reports for the Arizona Republic, the Navajo Nation Speaker said the Nation's council wanted an investigation into the allegations and the Navajo President’s office said that it welcomed the process.

Montoya detailed the allegations in the livestream, without identifying anyone.

“I was made to feel that I had no power to leave the room,” she said. “I was made to feel that what I was trying to accomplish didn't mean anything, that I was less than.”

Montoya said after a meeting with staff members, she was asked to elaborate more to better understand what happened and detail how she wanted to move forward regarding the person accused of harassing her.

"My response was I didn't want to be alone with this person ever,” she said. “And I didn't want him to talk to me or apologize or try to explain it."

Navajo Nation Speaker Crystalyne Curley said in a statement late Thursday that she and the council met on Wednesday and decided that the allegations warranted an independent investigation.

Last year, the Navajo Times reported other sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations by former employees within the Office of the President and Vice President.

President Buu Nygren said in a statement, “I support and welcome an independent, fair, and transparent investigation, and one that the Navajo People can have full confidence in.”