NM Delegation Requests Department of Defense Use New Authority to Reimburse NM Communities Affected by PFAS, Purchase Land, and Provide Clean-Up Solutions, Water Filtration

WASHINGTONU.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper requesting that the Department of Defense’s (DoD) release a plan for next steps to ensure New Mexican communities and dairy farms in close proximity to Cannon Air Force Base receive access to a clean water supply and a reimbursement of incurred filtration expenses. The delegation also requested DoD work on plans to purchase contaminated lands within proximity of the base to take responsibility for remediation.

The letter comes after the New Mexico delegation secured provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 that include strong new authorities for DoD and Air Force to finally address the serious PFAS contamination in Eastern New Mexico near Cannon Air Force Base. Communities in eastern New Mexico surrounding the base have faced tremendous economic hardship due to contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) chemicals in the groundwater from military activities. Some of these properties directly border the base and are logical candidates for the Air Force to purchase, thus providing compensation for owners of now contaminated agricultural properties and enhancing Cannon Air Force Base’s future security, training, and growth opportunities.

The concentrations of PFAS detected in the groundwater below Cannon Air Force Base exceeded 26,000 parts per trillion (ppt) which is 371 times greater than the U.S. EPA drinking water health advisory level of 70 ppt.

“PFAS chemicals were detected in milk produced by one of the dairies near Cannon Air Force Base, resulting in severe economic impacts there as its owner dumped thousands of gallons of milk in order to prevent human exposure,” the New Mexico delegation wrote. “That dairy is on the verge of bankruptcy. The contaminant plume has affected the water supply for other dairies that have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their own pocket to install water filtration and provide monitoring for their livestock.  The Air Force is aware that the plume is on the move and without fast decisive action, there will be even worse impacts for the local dairies and residents.

“These dairies have been very good neighbors to the Air Force,” the delegation continued. “They have previously sold their air rights to the base and have lived in harmony with the base for many years. But this past year, the contamination has been devastating and left them with no options to move forward. Due to the PFAS contamination, the commercial land value for all the neighboring dairies is next to nothing and the owners are struggling to make ends meet.

“There is now an opportunity for leadership at the Department of Defense and the Air Force to not only do the right thing to address the negative impact it has had, but also increase the force protection standoff near critical infrastructure and runways that would directly benefit Cannon Air Force base,” the delegation concluded. “We would like to know how you plan to use the new authorities that have been enacted to address this situation as soon as possible.”

The New Mexico delegation introduced the PFAS Damages Act last year to provide relief to communities and businesses affected by PFAS, including farms and ranches in New Mexico that have been upended by PFAS contamination from Cannon Air Force Base. The bill was included in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as an amendment. The measure ensures that DOD takes precautionary action to prevent human exposure, including through agricultural products, provide alternative water or water treatment for contaminated agricultural water, and acquire contiguous property that is contaminated.

The House of Representatives passed the PFAS Action Act earlier this week, a bill that would designate certain PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances and require PFAS releases receive remediation under the Superfund program. The legislation also requires the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether the remaining PFAS chemicals should be designated as hazardous substances within five years.

A copy of the signed letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

S.1710, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, as passed by Congress and signed by the President, includes strong new authorities for the Department of Defense and Air Force to finally address the dire situation in Eastern New Mexico near Cannon Air Force Base. Our constituents there have struggled with elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) chemicals in water from military activities. The concentrations of PFAS detected in the groundwater below Cannon Air Force Base exceeded 26,000 parts per trillion (ppt) which is 371 times greater than the U.S. EPA drinking water health advisory level of 70 ppt.  Agricultural activities and dairy operations have been directly and negatively impacted.

For well over a year, the New Mexico delegation has pressed the leadership at the Department of Defense and the Air Force to provide clean water and filtration to our constituents who have seen elevated levels of PFAS in the water that supplies their local dairies. We have also encouraged the Department and Air Force to purchase land in proximity to the Air Force base that has been contaminated as a logical way to improve base security and streamline clean-up efforts.

PFAS chemicals were detected in milk produced by one of the dairies near Cannon Air Force Base, resulting in severe economic impacts there as its owner dumped thousands of gallons of milk in order to prevent human exposure. That dairy is on the verge of bankruptcy. The contaminant plume has affected the water supply for other dairies that have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their own pocket to install water filtration and provide monitoring for their livestock.  The Air Force is aware that the plume is on the move and without fast decisive action, there will be even worse impacts for the local dairies and residents.

The Air Force is responsible for PFAS contamination in the water at several bases across the country and have been supplying drinking water and filtration to many affected communities. But leadership at the Department of Defense and the Air Force have not pursued similar actions in New Mexico, arguing that the authorities to do so did not exist. With the passage of S.1710 and the complete language of our legislation providing these authorities, we can move past these concerns and bring needed attention to this situation.

These dairies have been very good neighbors to the Air Force. They have previously sold their air rights to the base and have lived in harmony with the base for many years. But this past year, the contamination has been devastating and left them with no options to move forward. Due to the PFAS contamination, the commercial land value for all the neighboring dairies is next to nothing and the owners are struggling to make ends meet.

There is now an opportunity for leadership at the Department of Defense and the Air Force to not only do the right thing to address the negative impact it has had, but also increase the force protection standoff near critical infrastructure and runways that would directly benefit Cannon Air Force base.

We would like to know how you plan to use the new authorities that have been enacted to address this situation as soon as possible.  Please let us know by January 23rd what next steps you will take to supply clean water, reimburse filtration expenses that were incurred, and purchase contaminated lands within proximity of the base for the purpose of implementing remediation.

Sincerely,