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Government-released PFAS chemicals contaminate New Mexico, recent reports say

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(The Center Square) – “Forever chemicals” are a problem near the Santa Fe Airport and among wildlife at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, recent reports say.

The New Mexico Environmental Department is investigating the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination around the Santa Fe Airpor, according to a press release from the Department.

The Department thinks that several sources may be contributing to the PFAS problem. These include the Army National Guard’s use of foam containing PFAS, the city’s wastewater treatment solids disposal area, and Santa Fe County’s fire response activities. The Army National Guard has an Aviation Support Facility adjacent to the airport.

NMED is sampling data from the site as a part of its investigation and is waiting for groundwater sampling from the city’s monitoring wells to see if the solids disposal area contributes to contamination.

Releasing PFAS into the environment is a violation of New Mexico’s Hazardous Waste Act and Water Quality Act. NMED wants to use enforcement actions, like investigation and clean-up orders, once it figures out who is responsible.

“Growing evidence suggests exposure to some PFAS chemicals can lead to adverse health effects including increased cholesterol, reproductive problems, and cancer,” the release said.

Similarly, research published in Environmental Research found that animals, like wild birds and mammals, at Holloman Air Force Base were heavily contaminated with PFAS chemicals — which are dangerous to humans and animals even at low levels of exposure.

Among 23 bird and mammal species studied, PFAS concentrations were in the tens of thousands of parts per billion.

To put it in perspective, thousands of dairy cattle in Clovis were recently destroyed because their milk had less than six parts per billion of PFAS chemicals — considered too unsafe for humans to drink.

“Because these large wetlands are the only ones in the region, they are immensely attractive to wildlife,” University of New Mexico biology professor Christopher Witt, the lead author of the study, said in a press release from the school. “Holloman is one of the three most important wetlands in New Mexico for migratory waterbirds —over 100 species and tens of thousands of individuals use these habitats annually,” Witt explained. “The wetlands are also heavily used by people for recreation and hunting.”

The study found that this poses a problem for hunters around Holloman Lake as consuming wild game from the area may cause harm to humans. Based on the PFAS concentrations found in ducks, eating no more than one gram of its meat would be advised. However, even a penny weighs 2.5 grams, according to the release.

Study co-author and University of New Mexico’s Museum of Southwestern Biology Senior Collection Manager in the Division of Mammals Jon Dunnum said that what’s troubling about the study is that it indicates PFAS chemicals have been a problem in the area for a long time.

“These findings demonstrate that contamination of wild animal tissues at Holloman has been extraordinarily high for at least three decades,” he said.

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