PFAS in NM’s waters, plus NJ sues the military, too

Laura Paskus

January 19, 2021

In cooperation with the New Mexico Environment Department, the U.S. Geological Survey tested groundwater and surface water in 16 counties to find where PFAS are present and which specific types of those toxic substances have found their way into the state’s waters. The tests did not reveal alarmingly high levels of the pollutants at any one site. But the presence of PFAS was widespread geographically in New Mexico’s watersGiven their toxicity—as well as the fact that they persist within waters, soils, and bodies “forever”—the results are notable. You can read that full story here. 

Meanwhile, New Jersey officials have sued the military over its contamination of local waters with PFAS. According to a story by Michael Sol Warren:  

The complaint focuses on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington and Ocean counties. More than 45,000 people, from service members and their families to civilian contractors, live and work on and around the Joint Base. The total population of towns surrounding the base is about 600,000. 

In the absence of federal regulations, New Jersey is among the states to have set a statewide drinking water standard for PFAS—13 parts per trillion for PFOS and 14 parts per trillion for PFOA. The federal “health advisory” for those two types of PFAS is 70 parts per trillion.  

Moreover, according to the story: 

The Joint Base has been identified for years as a hot spot of PFAS contamination. Previous testing of groundwater at the installation found PFAS levels up to 264,000 parts per trillion, making it one of the most contaminated sites in the nation, according to the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group. 

In the lawsuit announcement on Thursday, the state said three private drinking water wells around the Joint Base have been found with combined PFOS and PFOA levels between 152 parts per trillion and 1,688 parts per trillion. 

Also listed in the complaint are Naval Weapons State Earle in Monmouth County, and the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Trenton. 

Last week, when I interviewed Rebecca Roose, director of the Water Protection Division at the New Mexico Environment Department, I asked her if she had any advice for New Jersey officials, given the fact that New Mexico has been in litigation with the military over contamination from Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases.  

“Don’t take anything for granted in terms of how to bring the Department of Defense around to take the action that they need to take,” she said. “Here in New Mexico, we continue to experience resistance nearly every step of the way for accountability, cleanup, and even just sharing information with the public...”  

Wisconsin State Journal reports that the state now recommends people limit eating smelt from Lake Superior. According to the story by Chris Hubbuch: 

As part of a statewide monitoring campaign, the Department of Natural Resources collected smelt from two locations about 30 miles apart in Lake Superior — one near the Apostle Islands, the other off Port Wing.  

Fish from both locations had high levels of PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), one of thousands of synthetic compounds known as “forever chemicals” that don’t break down in the environment and have been linked to cancer, liver disease and reproductive problems, and may interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines. 

Based on the findings, the Department of Health Services recommends eating Lake Superior rainbow smelt only once a month. 

Politico reported last week that the Trump administration’s EPA pushed aside recommendations from scientists and weakened a health assessment for perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS), one type of PFAS: 

PFBS is a replacement for a related chemical, PFOS, that was used for decades in Scotchguard and military firefighting foam before being phased out in the mid-2000s. PFBS has been in military firefighting foam, carpeting and food packaging, but independent scientists say it may not be much safer than the toxin it replaced. It has been linked with thyroid, kidney and reproductive problems at very low levels of exposure. 

According to the story from Annie Snider, “The PFBS assessment has been in the works for more than three years, and has been a particular concern for the Defense Department, which faces massive cleanup liability.” 

If you’ve been affected by PFAS contamination in your community here in New Mexico, call our tip line at (505) 433-7242. To read more coverage of PFAS in New Mexico visit “Groundwater War: New Mexico’s Toxic Threat,” which includes a timeline of events and studies on PFAS.