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State officials to conduct blood tests for residents near Air Force base after potential carcinogen exposure: 'Data will help us quantify [risks]'

Two events are set to be held to obtain blood samples from 500 volunteers who live within a few miles of the base.

Two events are set to be held to obtain blood samples from 500 volunteers who live within a few miles of the base.

Photo Credit: iStock

Amid fears of contamination from forever chemicals among residents near military bases in New Mexico, the state is seeking to conduct blood tests to determine the presence of these compounds.

What's happening?

According to the Associated Press, the New Mexico Environment Department plans to hold two events to obtain blood samples from up to 500 volunteers who live within a few miles of the Cannon Air Force Base. The samples would be tested to determine the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or forever chemicals, in participants' bloodstreams. 

Surveys will also be conducted to check on possible exposure among those living near the military site.

Since PFAS can be found in a range of consumer products, it's likely most New Mexico residents will have some in their bodies. However, State Environment Secretary James Kenney noted that those near military bases might be at higher risk.

"This data will help us quantify if there are greater risks and inform how we better protect New Mexicans," Kenney said in a statement, per the AP.

Why is this concerning?

PFAS do not break down naturally and can remain in the human body, leading to potential health problems, possibly including cancer.

They have been used in non-stick kitchenware, water-repellent clothing, and cosmetics for their resistant properties, but their ability to endure has led to serious health concerns, especially when higher levels of the chemicals are found in the water supply

While the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has noted the production and use of PFAS has declined since 2002, the Department of Defense determined 715 active military installations needed to be assessed. As of Dec. 31, 2023, after a preliminary assessment of most of the sites, about 570 needed to move forward to the next stage of the potential federal cleanup process. 

Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases have already seen $8 million spent on cleanup efforts by state officials, while the Air Force has spent $67 million at Cannon alone, according to the AP.

While the significant financial cost is alarming, that's nothing compared to the health risks that local residents — and residents all over the country — have been exposed to.

According to the Guardian, PFAS have been linked to "cancers, immunodeficiencies, reproductive harms and developmental effects in children." 

What can be done about PFAS?

The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States has proposed that more PFAS be added to substances in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that require cleanup. 

Furthermore, a modification to the definition of hazardous waste will give the EPA more powers to initiate the cleanup of these chemicals.

"States like New Mexico are on the front lines of protecting communities from forever chemicals, and stronger federal regulations are essential in addressing such contamination," New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "EPA's proposed rules are a direct result of New Mexico's leadership in holding polluters accountable by treating PFAS like the toxic waste they are."

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