Water Woes

PFAS New Mexico Dairy 022519
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals used in a host of consumer goods ranging from nonstick cookware to pizza boxes. ( Farm Journal )

I spent some time in New Mexico in the early spring of 2016. One of the farmers I visited during that trip was a farmer named Art Schaap. At the time, Art was milking cows on his Highland Dairy in addition to his organic dairy, and he had recently become partners in a cheese company. His Highland Dairy focused on profitability, and we spent the day talking about all the ways he was cutting costs on his farm to remain profitable in what was the start of a multi-year downturn in milk prices. 

He was quirky, sure, but an incredibly smart business owner. I came home from that trip amazed at Art’s resourcefulness and creativity. Just ask my husband: for a solid week I would not stop talking about my trip to Art’s farm. You may have heard that Art is closing that dairy. And while most farms are closing because of the toll low milk prices have had on their business, Art is facing another kind of devastation. His wells have been contaminated by chemicals used at nearby Cannon Air Force base.   

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals used in a host of consumer goods ranging from nonstick cookware to pizza boxes. Additionally, they are used in military-grade firefighting foam. Beginning in the early ’70s airmen training at Cannon Air Force base would put jet fuel in a pit, light it on fire, and practice putting it out with foam that contains these chemicals. Those chemicals seeped down into the groundwater. 

In December 2017, the Air Force took a routine sample from a monitor well on the base, a literal stone’s throw from one of Art’s irrigation wells, and discovered that it was testing far above the EPA advisory limit for a group of chemicals known as PFAS.  They notified Art in August 2018, and the rest is history. Art’s dairy is closing, his cows will be euthanized, and the Air Force has not compensated Art for his losses. 

“These drinking water advisory levels seem to be good enough to put him out of business, but they aren’t good enough to make the Air Force do the right thing, and that’s wrong,” says James Bearzi, a New Mexico environmental scientist. 

What do you need to know? Well, if you live near a military installation or a manufacturing facility that uses these chemicals, contact an environmental consultant and begin the testing process. 

While we know PFAS are found in the milk of cows who drink PFAS contaminated water, the cow acts as a filter and the levels are greatly reduced. Still it’s in your best interest to be proactive. The treatment process for PFAS contaminated water is relatively simple. 

As with any challenge you face, a proactive approach will yield far more successful results than a reactive one.