Cannon Air Force Base water contamination shuts down Clovis dairy

Thousands of cattle could face euthanasia
Highland Dairy in Clovis, New Mexico shuts down due to water contamination. (Source: KCBD)
Highland Dairy in Clovis, New Mexico shuts down due to water contamination. (Source: KCBD)
Updated: Feb. 26, 2019 at 6:28 AM CST
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CLOVIS, NEW MEXICO (KCBD) - Since 1992 the Highland Dairy has sat just southeast of Cannon Air Force Base. Unknown to the owner, Art Schaap, his neighbors’ firefighting activities would bring his business to a halt.

“We were shocked that we didn’t know about it earlier,” Schaap told KCBD.

In August of 2018, Schaap learned his groundwater contained PFOS and PFOA compounds above the EPA health advisory limit. The compounds come from man-made Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances used in industrial and consumer products. Going back to 1970, the Air Force used firefighting foam, Aqueous Film Forming Foam, with those chemicals.

According to the CDC, studies have shown the substances cause harmful health effects, including an increased risk of cancer.

“They’ve poisoned everything we have worked for our whole life,” Schaap said. “As a farmer, this is my 401k. This is everything we work for. This is our future retirement. Right now, we have nothing to sell. No one is going to buy a polluted dairy. No one is going to buy polluted ground. For sure, no one is going to buy cows either.”

Schaap said when he found out about the contamination, he asked the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to test the milk produced at the dairy. He said there had been problems with the cows production.

“We have basically connected it,” Schaap said. “The animals, it affects their mammary glands. It affects our young stock. It affects the generations of animals.”

The dairy is now forced to dispose of 12,000 to 15,000 gallons of milk per day.

“We’re not any selling any cows, beef cows,” Schaap said. “The FSIS, Food Safety Inspection Service, says my cows are adulterated and so I can’t beef any cows. We can’t sell any milk. There is no income on the dairy at this moment.”

Highland has gone from 40 to five employees, who are now just working to keep the cows alive. However, Schaap tells KCBD they may have to euthanize the more than 4,000 animals at the dairy.

“We’re trying to get the [Farm Service Agency] to make a decision on the animals and what they want us to do with them,” Schaap said. “At this moment we haven’t heard anything. We’re waiting for them to come here and even test the cows. Once we figure out what they want to do, then we can move forward.”

Schaap said the Air Force is providing water to the dairy for human consumption. That’s something done for residents near the former Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock County. The CDC announced in February it would join the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to examine the human exposure to the substances around military sites, including Lubbock County. The Air Force tells KCBD it has not been asked to assist with the assessments.

The following is a statement to KCBD from the Air Force:

PFOS and PFOA contamination of drinking water is an urgent national issue. The Air Force has moved aggressively to protect human health and drinking water supplies connected to and affected by our installations. The Air Force has numerous initiatives ongoing towards protecting people from exposure to PFOS and PFOA in drinking water at levels above EPA’s lifetime health advisories. PFOS and PFOA are chemicals that were used in many industrial and consumer products, such as nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric, some food packaging, and specialized foam. This is a national issue that requires a whole-of-government response to fully address health effects and issues regarding food safety and agriculture commodities. The Air Force is proud to be a leader in this effort, and we will continue to work with our neighbors, regulators and elected officials to protect human health and our environment.

The EPA also released in February a PFAS Action Plan outlining steps to address the substances. Click here to see that plan.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Schaap said. "We’ve been shut down by advisory levels. The Air Base is hiding behind the law. If EPA makes the standard the law then the Air Base will be forced to cleanup on the property.

Schaap has filed a claim against the Air Force and manufacturer of the product that used the chemical. He said they have not received a response.

His family is working with the USDA to find programs to help the dairy through this hardship. However, he doesn’t believe it will make it.

“For them to be able to fix it to where it was, it will never happen,” Schaap said. “The land has PFAS in it. The water has PFAS in it. We’ll probably never open this dairy up again.”

Schaap encourages people to contact their representatives to push for EPA standards on the chemicals.

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