Read the full article by Laura Paskus (High County News)
“The presence of toxic ‘forever’ chemicals in the City of Clovis’s water wells raises concerns about where the contamination is coming from — and what New Mexico regulators can do about it.
In a letter customers received over the weekend, EPCOR, the private utility that runs the city’s water system, said it recently found low levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in some of its intake wells. The utility said it shut down the affected wells.
The human-made chemicals are associated with cancer and myriad health problems, and are known as ‘forever’ chemicals because they bioaccumulate and persist within the body.
EPCOR’s announcement heightened anxiety over how New Mexico can regulate and control the toxic contaminants at a time when the state and the U.S. Department of Defense are embroiled in lawsuits over PFAS cleanup at Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases. Federal efforts to create regulatory limits for the chemicals have stalled, leaving New Mexico without needed authority and relying upon the goodwill of utilities like EPCOR that are voluntarily testing their wells.
New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall said on Friday he was “incredibly concerned” about EPCOR’s discovery, which NMPBS learned was actually made last summer.
Maps produced by EPCOR and obtained by NMPBS show that wells tested positive for the toxic substances as far back as the summer and fall of 2019, although customers weren’t notified until this month.
‘Our communication plan was timely, and our communication has been transparent and above the table,’ said John Calkins, EPCOR’s environmental compliance director. He explained that lab turnaround times are 30-45 days, and positive results require a verification process that includes retesting. ‘Currently, there is not a national drinking water standard for any PFAS,’ he said. ‘We are doing this strictly voluntarily because we think it’s the right thing to do.’
The affected wells tested far below a federal lifetime health advisory.
It’s the first time the contaminants — known to be present in high concentrations in groundwater beneath Cannon Air Force Base just outside Clovis — have been found in a public drinking water supply in the state. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney said that even at low levels, their presence is significant.
‘The facts are that Cannon has used those aqueous firefighting foams, those have migrated into the groundwater, now, we’re seeing those PFAS chemicals that are in those aqueous firefighting foams in the drinking water,’ he said in an interview with NMPBS this week. ‘So while we haven’t done a forensic analysis to see if it’s the same chemical, the likelihood in my opinion is that it’s moving in that direction — the plume is moving in that direction, the groundwater is moving in that direction, and that might be what we’re seeing.’
State Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, doubts the contamination is coming from Cannon. The wells that tested positive for PFAS — including one about 30 feet from his own property — are upgradient of the plume, he said. He also noted that many of the impacted wells are close to stormwater features, playas, and lakes, such as the city’s Greene Lake and Dennis Chavez Park. These could be affected by debris or wastewater containing PFAS, he said.
PFAS chemicals are found in common household goods ranging from non-stick cookware and stain-resistant carpets, to furniture and fast food containers, to pizza boxes and rain-resistant clothing.
Below Cannon, however, concentrations were alarming — more than 370 times what federal regulators currently consider safe for a lifetime of exposure. Tests within a four-mile perimeter of the base, conducted in 2018, showed contamination of private drinking wells. Some of the affected wells included those supplying water to dairies, a key component of the local economy.
As a precaution at that time, EPCOR’s Calkins said the utility shut down two of its wells downgradient of the plume and in the presumed path of groundwater migrating from beneath the base. He said EPCOR has taken any wells that have tested positive for PFAS out of service…”