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CANNON AFB, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — Cannon Air Force Base is starting work with nearby landowners to test their water and soil for a group of chemicals known as PFAS.

Tests will help the military determine where an underground contamination plume migrated off the base.

But complex federal legal requirements have made the cleanup process of toxins that leaked into the Ogallala Aquifer frustratingly slow, Clovis dairy farmers and residents told Cannon officials last week.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) leaked into the ground from firefighting foam used in military training exercises. Similar problems have been reported at military bases and industrial sites across the country.

John Kern, director of the community group Clean Water Partnership at Cannon, said he is concerned that a short-term water treatment solution will not be operational until 2023.

"Much of the community considers that to be a woefully inadequate response to the problem," Kern said during Cannon's quarterly virtual public meeting about PFAS last week.

Chris Segura with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center said the $16.6 million on-base project of three wells and a filtration system is a necessary step.

"This is bounded by law," Segura said. "Flexibility and our agility to be able to manage this under a different framework just is not there. So our hands are tied."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency links PFAS to cancers and low birth weights.

Col. Terence Taylor, who became commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon in June, said he understands that Department of Defense project timelines don't always "match up with the urgency" the community wants.

"My family lives here on the installation, as well as over 500 military families," Taylor said. "We're all interested in ensuring that we have clean, consumable water for the health and wellbeing of everyone. We are not looking for ways to halt progress. In fact, we're trying to speed things up as best we can."

The toxic plume spread in the aquifer from Cannon's southeast corner.

Art Schaap at nearby Highland Dairy euthanized at least 1,000 cows because of PFAS in the animals' meat and milk.

"I know that you guys are going to get to the bottom of this, and we're going to get to a resolution here someday," Schaap said. "I'm just wondering why we don't just have filters on all those contaminated wells that are being used right now to feed our animals, to water our crops, our homes. We've had to pay for all that ourselves."

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

(c)2021 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

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Firefighters use extinguish a helicopter fire during a training exercise in 2007.
Firefighters use extinguish a helicopter fire during a training exercise in 2007. (U.S. Army)

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