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Environment Dept continues to fight feds over deadly PFAS

Mike Seyfang
flickr.com CC BY 2.0

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney told the legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee meeting in Clovis Friday that there is no practical safe level of PFAS in drinking water. It’s a hazardous substance used in firefighting, household products, and even clothing.

PFAS is a family of chemicalslinked to cancer, liver disease and immune system problems. It was commonly used on military bases where it contaminated the surrounding water supply.

Kenney said the EPA in June lowered the amount of PFAS it says is safe in drinking water to a very low level. “If you took a half cup of your coffee and poured it into Lake Meade, anything more than that would be unacceptable,” he said.

Kenney told the committee the Department of Defense has resisted sharing plans for remediation at Cannon Air Force Base beyond the boundaries of the installation and that’s hampering his ability to help nearby communities.

Highland Dairy owner Art Schaap said water to his 3,500 acres was contaminated by Cannon and over 3,600 cattle had to be destroyed because their milk and meat were no longer safe.

"My farm has been totally decimated and my once prosperous dairy is worth nothing now," Schapp told the committee.

PFAS contamination cost Schaap almost $6 million. The state Environment Department has spent nearly $1 million to help Schapp dispose of the toxic carcasses, and more than $6 million for water safety in the Clovis area.

Officials with Cannon, the Defense Department, and the Pentagon declined to attend the hearing as multiple lawsuits between the state and the DoD work their way through the courts.

This report is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

Kaveh Mowahed is a reporter with KUNM who follows government, public health and housing. Send story ideas to kaveh@kunm.org.
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