An eastern New Mexico dairy has lost tens of thousands of gallons of milk daily since the U.S. Air Force announced that water in the area was contaminated with chemicals associated with past military firefighting activities.
Manager Ryan Schaap tells the Eastern New Mexico News that the cows at Highland Dairy need to be milked but nobody will buy their wares, imperiling the dairy and its 40 employees.
Chemicals associated with firefighting foam once used at Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis have been detected in groundwater on and near the military installation, prompting requests by state officials for more tests and a study to determine the extent of the toxic plume.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been detected in some off-base wells. Sampling by the Air Force shows contamination beyond the base ranges from less than half of the federal advisory level to more than 20 times the level.
The Air Force is making bottled water available for drinking and cooking for residents who rely on wells that exceed the health advisory level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Schaap’s business is among those affected. He said water at the dairy and farm were found to be 35 and 200 times the EPA limit, respectively. Water at his parents’ home tested 10 times the limit.
A scientist with the New Mexico Environment Department explained at a recent town hall in Clovis that the chemicals can accumulate, making their way from water into crops, livestock and other products. A standard for those chemicals’ hazards in food and animals hasn’t been established in the same way it has for drinking water, and officials have said more research is needed.
The state Agriculture Department has requested that the Food and Drug Administration establish a standard for addressing the chemicals’ concentrations in milk or other foods.
Military officials told The News that their hands were tied until then, in the way of offering compensation for contamination to crops, cows or other food.
“We don’t set the standards, we just execute to the standards that are out there,” said Mark Kinkade, a spokesman with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. “Right now what’s in front of us is dealing with drinking water here at Cannon Air Force Base.”
Schaap said that doesn’t help his situation one drop.
“Cannon must take responsibility of this problem and stop hiding behind the curtain of government,” he wrote in a statement. “While we’re grateful that the Air Force is paying attention to drinking water, we’re furious that they don’t acknowledge the threat to our dairy, our business and our livelihood.”