CLOVIS, N.M. (KRQE) – Cannon Air Force Base has come under fire in recent years for contaminating the surrounding environment with PFAS, dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down and accumulate in the environment—and in humans and animals. Now, they’re looking to let the public weigh-in about the military’s cleanup efforts.
Art Schaap, owner of Highland Dairy in Clovis, said after PFAS contamination from the Air Force base leaked onto his land and into his cows his dairy farm lost all of its value and is now a hazardous waste site.
“In 2018 we found out that we had water contamination from Cannon Air Force Base. And they have been, over the last 40 years using PFAS and PFOA on their firefighting practice area and that water got into the aquifer and we probably have been contaminated for over 10, 15 years and didn’t know it,” Schaap said.
Schaap said they had to put down 4,000 cows as a result because their milk and meat had the chemical: “I lost 100 percent of the value of my dairy and all the value of my cows. I mean cause the dairy is worth zero. I can’t reopen the dairy. So, I lost everything.”
Wednesday, Cannon Air Force Base announced it wants to form a Restoration Advisory Board made up of community members, the Environmental Protection Agency and local and state regulators to discuss military clean-up activities.
James Kenney, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico’s Environment Department, says after the state got slapped with a lawsuit in 2019 from the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice for trying to clean up PFAS in the area, communication between the base and the state has been scant. “Since that time, New Mexico taxpayers have been footing the bill to assess the area and then begin cleanup,” Kenney said.
However, he says he’s optimistic this announcement is a good sign. “It’s been a long struggle and again I would pivot back to the announcement of this advisory board as maybe being a positive sign that Cannon and the Department of Defense want to communicate and get input from community members as well as the state government on what the remedy plans look like,” Kenney said.
“The New Mexico Environment Department stands ready to be a meaningful and engaged and honest broker of science on the Advisory Board. While not specifically invited to participate, the press release does indicate that state regulators are going to be a part of this. So, we want to affirmatively stake our position on that board right here, right now,” Kenney said.
Local environmental groups say this effort to create this board is encouraging: “If our military is meant to protect us, that has to be at home and in neighboring communities as well,” said Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, “These are not sort of imaginary impacts. You see dairy farmers who have lost thousands of animals. Who have tested positive for having PFAS in their own bloodstream and having to face these really existential questions: ‘can I start again?’ ‘Will I be compensated by the federal government for the mistakes they’ve made?'”
However, people like Schaap, who have faced immense loss because of the contamination, have a different outlook: “Basically what they’re doing is they’re kicking the can down the road and if they want to have a RAB, that’s all they’re going to do,” Schaap said, “The time is not to talk about it. The time is to actually put filters out there, start cleaning, and quite talking about it.”
He said they tried to petition the Air Force Base years earlier and garnered more than 100 signatures from local community members but were denied.
“We’re hopeful that this is turning a page, but as Mr. Schapp says, they’ve decimated local communities, our communities, they’ve ignored the state of New Mexico in it’s attempts to get them to clean up after themselves,” says John Kern, executive director of Clean Water Partnership – Cannon. Schaap and Kern are hopeful the recent change in leadership at the Air Force base will lead to better results in cleaning up the situation.
A restoration project manager at the base explained to News 13 how the Advisory Board would work but declined to do an interview. For more information about the Restoration Advisory Board or to get involved, email 27SOCES.firstname.lastname@example.org by June 31, 2023, to indicate interest.