CLOVIS, N.M. (KAMR/KCIT) — Clovis dairy farmer Art Schaap first learned his water was contaminated with PFAS chemicals in October of 2018. Since then, Schaap said he has been forced to dump tens of millions of pounds of milk, losing millions of dollars in revenue.
“I’ve lost over 1,100 animals since this whole PFAS poisoning started and it’s devastating my business,” Schaap said on Thursday. “I have dumped 72 million pounds of milk, which is about 1,500 semi-loads of milk…probably over $11 million of lost revenue.”
Christipher Gierke, the Remedial Project Manager for Cannon AFB, said the Air Force and DOD are focused on drinking water for human consumption.
“To be quite honest, right now there’s not a lot of guidance on authorities regarding PFOS and PFOA except for that the EPA recommends but does not mandate that we take action for human drinking water above that 70 parts per trillion,” Gierke said on the Zoom call, citing the EPA’s lifetime health advisory for PFOA and PFOS.
On that call, the Air Force said it offered to install water filters in three locations that exceeded the EPA’s LHA, but they declined.
Schaap said he declined because the Air Force’s and DOD’s process took too long.
“They want to come in, they want to do engineering and everything they do takes forever,” Schaap said. “And my wife said, ‘You know what, I’m not gonna wait.’ So, I went out and I found a filter and I installed it at my house and I spent about eight grand just at my house, and you have to replace that every couple years.
Schaap said he also spent $150,000 to install a filter for the water his cows drink, claiming the Air Force and DOD will not reimburse him for either.
“That’s why we declined, because we’re like, ‘Hey, we already got the filter in.’ And then at the dairy farm, I thought that they were going to put the filters in for the animals. ‘No,’ they said, ‘We don’t do ag water, we’re only going to do drinking water.’ So all they were going to do is put in drinking fountains,” Schaap continued. “Well, that don’t do me no good. It does good for me and the employees, which is great but doesn’t do any good for the animals. And the animals are the main revenue source of the dairy.”
Schaap said he has about 20 wells on his land that need filters.
“They ruined my water system. They ruined my animals, I can’t sell my milk, I’ve lost my contract. I have some other farms that are kind of keeping me afloat right now but I’ve been getting help from the USDA, but that has stopped and no one has a resolution what they want to do,” Schaap said.
Gierke said the Superfund Law, officially called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, allows the DOD to address emerging contaminants.
“We have the Office of Secretary of Defense that is currently implementing guidance that was put out in the National Defense Authorization Act and then there’s limited guidance that’s been put out by the Food and Drug Administration then the Environmental Protection Agency with regards to consuming agricultural products and other exposure pathways. So with this, these are kind of our constraints and limitations that we have with addressing PFOS/PFOA,” Gierke said.
Schaap has filed two lawsuits, one against manufacturers of the AFFF, and another against the Air Force and DOD. Both suits are still pending.
“I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, you know? Then, you know, once there’s a settlement, then people can move on, but I have no idea how long it’s gonna take,” Schaap said. “I mean, is something gonna happen before, I mean, I lose everything? I don’t—I have no idea.”
Following the CERCLA process, the Air Force and DOD have wrapped up site inspections near Cannon AFB to confirm the presence or absence of PFAS contamination. They are now gearing up for the remedial investigation to determine the nature and extent, which could take years to finish.
The Air Force will host more meetings with the Clovis community to address PFAS contamination. It is also looking to establish a restoration advisory board at the base.