Milk is 90% water, and as this New Mexico dairy farm learned, it’s vulnerable to contamination from a group of chemicals linked to reproductive and developmental problems.
This story was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit investigative news organization.
At Art Schaap’s dairy farm in Clovis, New Mexico, sprinklers draw from deep wells to water green fields of sorghum and corn. Near the milking barn Schaap built almost three decades ago, glossy black-and-white cows lap water from a pipe.
Schaap used to ship thousands of gallons of milk each day to milk co-ops and cheese producers, who in turn sold to consumers across the country. But for the last year, he has poured all that milk down the drain.
In September 2018, Schaap got an unexpected visit from an official with Cannon Air Force Base, which adjoins his Highland Dairy property. The official gave him a letter indicating that tests found his well water was contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals that have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems as well as cancer. The chemicals had migrated into Schaap’s groundwater from foams used in firefighting exercises on the military base.