From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):
New Mexico officials find themselves stonewalled by the United States military over water contamination from two U.S. Air Force bases in the state.
In early May, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary James Kenney sent a letter to the U.S. Air Force over contamination, this time at Holloman Lake.
Previously, groundwater tests at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis and Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo showed high concentrations of PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
Even in small amounts, exposure to these toxic, human-manufactured chemicals increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer and problems like ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension. PFAS include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
In response to the groundwater contamination, New Mexico issued notices of violation against the military in late 2018 and again earlier this year. The state also filed a complaint in federal district court, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and fund, cleanup at the two bases.
But New Mexico is also a defendant in a separate case. After NMED issued a notice of violation against Cannon, the Air Force sued New Mexico, challenging the agency’s authority to compel PFAS cleanup under its state permit…
Moving up the food chain
PFAS’s move through the groundwater, and they’re persistent, which means they stick around for a long time. They also move up the food chain, accumulating more and more within each species.
Scientists have found PFOS in fish-eating birds, even those in remote marine locations. And in Michigan—another state grappling with PFAS contamination from military bases—scientists found PFOS in the muscle of deer living near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. That state issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer harvested within that area.
Holloman Lake is also considered an important area for birds, including migrating ducks. According to the Audubon Society’s website, the lake is the most important area in the Tularosa Basin for shorebirds like Wilson’s phalarope and snowy plovers.
“The bottom line is that you’ve got a wetland complex that provides wintering and migratory bird habitat to thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl each year that is potentially contaminated by a bioaccumulating toxic chemical, that’s not a good thing,” said Jonathan Hayes, executive director of Audubon New Mexico. “Holloman Lakes is also one of a dozen or so sites in the state that are frequented by snowy plover, a species in drastic decline over much of its range and one that is likely to ingest toxic chemicals as they feed on aquatic invertebrates which make up the bulk of their diet.”
In addition to birdwatching, waterfowl hunting is allowed within certain areas at Holloman Lakes. Although the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game issues hunting permits and sets hunting season rules, the responsibility for closing the area to hunting would lie with Air Force officials.
Meanwhile, Balderas and Kenney are still waiting to hear back from the Air Force.
“We have not received a response to the letter sent by NMED and the Office of the Attorney General on May 9,” said NMED’s public information officer, Maddy Hayden. “We are also unaware of any actions the Air Force has taken in the interim to protect the public from exposure to PFAS at Lake Holloman.”