New Mexico dairy farm with PFAS contamination loses entire herd

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Farm forced to humanely euthanize entire herd of 3,665 cows due to contamination.

A fourth generation New Mexico dairy farmer who lost his entire herd as a result of contamination from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—a group of man-made chemicals that are used for a wide range of purposes including food packaging, cleaning products, stain resistant carpet treatments, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam, among other products—is on the path to recovery after receiving assistance from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).

According to the agency, PFAS-contaminated groundwater from Cannon Air Force Base migrated offsite and resulted in contamination of thousands of cows at Highland Dairy. Testing showed that the cows and their milk contained PFAS at levels the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed unsafe for human consumption. As a result, the owner of the dairy was unable to sell products from the farm and was ultimately forced to humanely euthanize his entire herd of 3,665 cows. The current estimated cost of this loss of revenue and increased expenses is approximately $5.95 million, which does not account for upcoming costs associated with the on-farm composting of animal mortalities and final disposal.

“The Department of Defense poisoned Highland Dairy’s cows and the loss is devastating and heartbreaking,” said New Mexico Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney. “Rather than take responsibility for its PFAS pollution, the Department of Defense put a family farm out of business and has the audacity to continue its litigation against New Mexico – forcing New Mexicans to pay for clean-up and legal costs. As a result, we are now assisting Highland Dairy in managing dairy cow carcasses as hazardous substances and seeking input from experts on treatment and disposal options.”

Highland Dairy owner Art Schaap said Cannon Air Force Base knows what they have done to the groundwater. “They expect military personnel to have integrity, but what they are doing to the Clovis community and the farms near the base does not demonstrate integrity. They need to own the pollution.”

During routine water well testing, water containing PFAS above the acceptable standard level was detected at the well supplying water to Highland Dairy in 2018. The New Mexico Department of Agriculture obtained milk samples from the dairy and sent those samples to FDA for testing. Simultaneously, the milk was kept off the market until test results were finalized. When the milk tested above the FDA’s screening level, all milk from that dairy was pulled off the market.

NMED is the state agency overseeing Highland Dairy’s plan for disposal of PFAS-contaminated livestock, which is required for the dairy to qualify for cow indemnity under USDA’s Dairy Indemnity Payment Program. The program, which USDA expanded late last year, provides payments to dairy producers for the lost value of their herd due to contamination from livestock exposure to chemicals, like PFAS.

In the first phase of the plan, the dairy will compost all PFAS-contaminated carcasses on the farm property in accordance with USDA conservation practice standards and provisions of the plan. In Phase 2, the Dairy will conduct PFAS analysis of the composted material and associated impacted material, such as soil at the compost site, in order to determine final removal and disposal options.

The Highland Dairy removal plan is the first of its kind nationally for addressing PFAS-contaminated cows as a hazardous waste and was developed in consultation with the USDA Farm Service Agency, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the State Veterinarian of New Mexico, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and NMED. A copy of the Highland Dairy Removal Plan is available here.

“I support NMED’s science-based approach to ensure that livestock and other agricultural sectors are safe,” said New Mexico Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Jeff Witte. “We, unfortunately, already witnessed how PFAS contamination affected a New Mexico dairy.”

While New Mexico continues to lead on PFAS regulation and enforcement, the U.S. Department of Defense continues to ignore state authority resulting in increased risks to surrounding communities, drinking water, and local economies. Further, the Department of Defense has saddled New Mexicans with the cost of PFAS investigation and cleanup around Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases. In addition to the payment sought by Highland Dairy from USDA, NMED has allocated up to $850,000 of its hazardous waste emergency fund for expenses associated with the proper disposal of PFAS-contaminated hazardous carcasses and associated wastes.

Including this funding, the State of New Mexico estimates it has now spent and committed over $6 million to protect the communities from PFAS – expenses that should have been incurred by the U.S. Department of Defense.

They are found in the bodies of people and animals all over the world, and in ground and surface water, because of their widespread use.

 

 

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