New Mexico seeks to recoup damages from PFAS at military bases

Contractors move heavy equipment in preparation for a study to be conducted by 2021 on the removal of per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) under Cannon Air Force Base, near Clovis. In court documents filed on Monday, New Mexico asked a federal judge to order the government to pay damages for both current and future PFAS exposure. Courtesy U.S. Air Force staff Sgt. Maxwell Daigle

Officials are now seeking to change federal rules to allow a judge the power to order cleanup and award monetary damages.

According to court documents filed on Monday, New Mexico asked a judge to order that the federal government pay for the costs of cleaning up the ‘forever chemical’ residues from military bases in the state.

Cleanup efforts can take years and cost billions to remove toxic chemicals such as per- or polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS).

New Mexico officials say the federal government should be held accountable for PFAS contamination at Cannon Air Force Base and other bases, including Holloman Air Force Base Kirtland Air Force Base White Sands Missile Range, Fort Wingate, Kirtland Air Force Base.

After a change in federal rules on Monday, the state hopes that it will be able to recover damages as well as future cleanup costs due to PFAS contamination at military bases throughout New Mexico.

Raul Torrez, New Mexico’s Attorney General, said: “We applauded the EPA for listing certain PFAS or ‘forever chemical’ substances as hazardous substances under Superfund law.” This allows us to pursue damages and costs in federal facilities as stated in our amended lawsuit.

Torrez explained that the new law requires polluters pay for cleaning up contamination.

The EPA is not attempting to eliminate the chemicals from drinking water by designating PFAS a hazardous substance.

The federal government is liable for all costs now and in the future, to repair damage to land, water and air, and to address the impact on wildlife and the economy of the state.

James Kenney, New Mexico’s Environment Secretary said: “This allows us to help communities such as Clovis that have suffered for too long from this threat if not the actuality of PFAS.”

Source New Mexico reported that the timing of payment is uncertain if the judge grants the request. However, he pointed out a similar procedure at the Gold King Mine which took many years.

Kenney stated that the state spent between $8 and $10 million in technical costs, legal fees and cleanups at Cannon and Holloman. However, cleanups at other sites are expected to be costly.

Kenney stated that “we could easily be looking up to 150 millions, if we don’t more, once we realize the extent of the damage.”

He stated that it is unclear when the state’s estimate of damage costs will be available.

Kenney stated that it depends on the United States’ cooperation. “I’d say that being five-and-a-half-years in and where we are now does not scream cooperation to me.”

According to the complaint, New Mexico wants to recoup $850,000 in costs for the removal thousands of PFAS contaminated cow carcasses that were found at a dairy near Cannon. Another $1.3 million will be used to investigate contamination around bases.

This filing amends an old civil case that was filed five years ago before the federal District of South Carolina Court. This case combines 500 claims filed by people across the nation seeking damages for contamination caused by a firefighting spray containing PFAS. Since 2020, the case is in the discovery phase.

New Mexico specifically stated that the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and other federal agencies violated state laws by failing to “contain or address contaminants, hazardous wastes and hazardous substances,” and listing the PFAS found in the groundwater and environment.

The amended complaint, filed on Monday, expands the original complaint to include five sites.

New Mexico argued that in their 65-page complaint that the federal government had acknowledged that PFAS posed “an immediate and substantial danger” at Cannon but that it failed to act to clean up.

The court was asked to grant the state authority to order the federal government “to take all necessary steps” to clean up.

The U.S. Department of Justice was consulted by the U.S. Department of Defense on Tuesday.

New Mexico is involved in a separate federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense regarding PFAS. The case is currently in mediation and not part of efforts to recoup damage.

Forever Chemicals

PFAS is a group of thousands of chemicals that are man-made and have been contaminated widely, posing a threat to both the environment and people. They are durable and resistant to heat and water. Their stable properties have earned them the nickname ‘forever chemical’. These chemicals are used to make everything from nonstick cookware to water-resistant clothing and firefighting foams.

They are everywhere, and that is one of the biggest threats to them. Estimated 97% of the blood in the U.S. population contains these chemicals. These chemicals have been linked to reduced fertility, immune system damage and cancer risk.

Source New Mexico is a nonprofit, independent news organization that sheds light on government, policies, and public officials.