Recently, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján introduced a bill to provide relief to communities and businesses impacted by PFAS contamination in groundwater around Air Force bases in New Mexico and across the country. Udall, Heinrich, and Luján are pressing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to coordinate closely with the state of New Mexico to quickly move forward with remediation plans to clean up contaminated sites and take all necessary steps to prevent further risks to public health.
“Families, business owners, farmers, service members and communities who have suffered from exposure to these hazardous chemicals in New Mexico deserve immediate relief, and the Air Force must take precautionary steps to prevent any further dangers to public health,” said Udall. “The Department of Defense says they lack authority to fully address this dire situation, so our bill ensures they are able to provide clean water and assistance, including to agricultural operations that face contamination. The evidence is clear that these chemicals are toxic, and we must act proactively to ensure further damage does not occur. Our bases want to be good neighbors – the Pentagon leadership owes New Mexicans a plan to clean up contaminated sites surrounding our military bases and assist anyone whose water is now toxic. We will remain focused on ensuring the Air Force does right by New Mexicans and protects New Mexico’s water supplies across the state.”
“We can’t wait any longer to take action and protect the health and safety of the communities impacted by PFAS contamination around Holloman and Cannon Air Force bases,” said Heinrich. “This bill will allow the Department of Defense to respond to this issue with the urgency it deserves and mandate a plan of action to clean up contamination and make New Mexico families and businesses whole.”
“I’ve met with the farmers in Curry County that have been impacted by PFAS contamination. These families and small businesses face serious, potentially long-term economic consequences and deserve immediate relief. The Air Force must take responsibility and commit to serious changes to ensure no community ever has to go through this again,” said Luján. “There are states across the country that are dealing with the consequences of PFAS contamination. This legislation would provide the Department of Defense with the authority and funding to fully address this issue so impacted communities have access to safe, clean drinking water. We also ensure that the Department can take proactive steps to prevent future contamination. I will continue to work with the New Mexico delegation and members of the Congressional PFAS Task Force to raise awareness about this issue and fight for impacted communities.”
In 2018, the U.S. Air Force confirmed that firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals (PFOA and PFOS) used around Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico contaminated nearby groundwater. The contamination has affected several agricultural wells near Cannon Air Force Base that feed New Mexican dairies. The contamination has caused major disruptions for the local dairy industry, and the extent of impacts near Holloman is still being determined.
The key provisions of this bill include:
- Ensures the Department of Defense has authority to provide relief to prevent further human exposure;
- Supports prompt action by the Department of Defense to take precautionary moves to prevent potential health consequences to humans through agricultural products;
- Authorizes the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of each branch of the military to use funds to provide fresh water and/or treatment of contaminated water for agricultural purposes where water is contaminated by PFAS compounds, including PFOA and PFOS, due to activities on a military installation.
- Authorizes the Secretary of the Air Force to acquire property to extend the contiguous geographic footprint of any Air Force base that has shown signs of contamination from PFOA and PFOS due to activities on the base;
- Mandates that the Secretary of Defense, submit to Congress a remediation plan for cleanup of water contaminated by PFOA and PFOS at and adjacent to military bases that includes a budgetary request so that Congress can begin the process of funding remediation plans.
Udall, Heinrich, and Luján also cosponsored the PFAS Action Act of 2019 introduced by Senator Carper (D-Del.) in the Senate and Representative Dingell (D-Mich.) in the House that would mandate the EPA within one year of enactment, declare PFAS and PFOS as hazardous substances eligible for federal cleanup funds under the EPA’s Superfund law (CERCLA). The PFAS Action Act of 2019 would also require polluters undertake or pay for remediation.
In February, Udall and Heinrich sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler urging him to develop federal drinking water standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as part of the agency’s national management plan for this class of chemicals. The Senators’ letter came in response to a report that the agency does not plan to establish enforceable drinking water standards for the chemicals, which have been linked to a variety of adverse health implications.