Read the full article by Laura Paskus (Santa Fe Reporter)
“In the early to mid-1990s, Air Force firefighter Kevin Ferrara was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico. It was his first deployment after training at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois.
The life of an Air Force firefighter is similar to a municipal firefighter, he says. They ignite jet fuel in training pits and extinguish the fires. Sometimes, an airplane crashes. And every day, firefighters check their equipment, testing trucks and spraying foam, making sure no gremlins gum things up in an emergency.
‘There were some incidents where we sprayed foam out for fire prevention visits, and young kids played in it because they thought it was cool, it looked like snow,’ he says. Now retired, Ferrara says he unquestioningly believed leadership—during his training and deployments—when they compared that firefighting foam to “soap and water.”
Today, we know the foam contained toxic chemicals responsible for polluting the water around hundreds of military bases nationwide, including Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases in New Mexico. And the toxic chemicals are present in the drinking water of millions of Americans.
‘We never imagined that foam was toxic,’ Ferrara says today from his home in Pennsylvania, where he is an outspoken critic of the military’s response to the pollution. ‘We were just assuming those who told us these things knew what they were talking about.’
Over the years, Ferrara has learned that the military knew Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) was dangerous—and so did the companies that manufactured it. But without federal regulations that set drinking water standards or hazardous waste limits, states like New Mexico still can’t hold the Pentagon accountable for the pollution that has crept from the bases into the wells of local residents and businesses. Meanwhile, military firefighters like Ferrara wonder what’s happening within their own bodies—and the bodies of those whose water they polluted.
In the waning days of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) was grappling with a problem. A ‘forever’ problem, as it turns out.
Contractors hired by the military were investigating whether AFFF used at the state’s three Air Force bases had contaminated groundwater with PFAS.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a family of thousands of human-made chemicals, exposure to which has been linked to myriad health problems. Two types of PFAS in particular had been found in AFFF, which the US military had been using since the late 1970s.
The carbon-fluorine bonds unique to human-made PFAS are hard to break. That makes them great for all sorts of products like non-stick cookware, stain-proof fabric, dental floss and wrappers for greasy foods like pizza and hamburgers—and incredibly useful for firefighting foams needed to extinguish super-hot, petroleum-based fires.
In an August 2018 conference call, Air Force officials told state officials that PFAS had been found in wells at Cannon Air Force Base at concentrations above the US Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. Further studies showed the levels exceed 26,000 parts per trillion—more than 370 times that EPA health advisory—and that PFAS was also in off-base wells that supply homes and dairies in Clovis.
In October, NMED, the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture publicly announced the presence of the contamination on and off the base. They advised private well-owners within a 4-mile radius of the base to use bottled water. NMED issued a notice of violation against the Air Force for breaking state regulations. The agency issued ‘corrective action permits’ with cleanup mandates for the military’s state permits.
But in January 2019, just after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office, the US Department of Defense sued New Mexico, challenging the state’s authority to mandate cleanup.
And although the state made no announcements nor issued any corrective actions, a report the Air Force submitted to NMED during the Martinez administration showed that groundwater samples of PFAS at Holloman Air Force Base were as high as 1.294 million parts per trillion. In February 2019, NMED issued a notice of violation against the Air Force over Holloman, too.
The following month, in March 2019, New Mexico filed its own lawsuit, asking a federal judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and pay for, cleanup at Cannon and Holloman.'”…