“Forever Chemicals” found in New Mexico’s water

USGS scientists found "forever chemicals" (PFAS) in New Mexico's water, with the highest concentrations found downstream of urban areas, indicating cities as a major source of this pollution.
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  • “Forever chemicals” (PFAS) are in New Mexico’s rivers and groundwater.
  • Cities are the main source of these chemicals.
  • PFAS don’t break down easily and might be harmful to health.
  • Scientists are studying PFAS to better understand the risks.

April 15, 2024 — Non-stick pans, some food packaging, and even firefighting foam often contain chemicals nicknamed “forever chemicals”. That’s because they’re tough to break down and stick around in the environment for a super long time. Officially they’re called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) researching New Mexico’s water quality discovered PFAS chemicals in both surface water and groundwater. The concentrations are near cities and towns.

The USGS examined water across the state and then zeroed in on how PFAS changes in the Rio Grande River as it flows through AlbuquerqueOpens in a new tab., New Mexico’s biggest city.

The initial statewide study sampled 117 groundwater wells and 18 surface water sites across New Mexico between August 2020 and October 2021. PFAS were detected in all major rivers of New Mexico with highest concentrations from sites downstream of urban areas. Total PFAS concentrations from surface water samples ranged from 1.0 to 155.4 nanograms per liter. PFAS were detected at 27 groundwater sites, though no results exceeded the EPA’s 2016 health advisory limit.

“The comprehensive survey of New Mexico’s major rivers and evaluation of groundwater quality across the state is critical in helping NMED protect these valuable resources,” said Andy Jochems, Source Water Protection Team Lead from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). “The science provided by the USGS helps us make informed decisions about our drinking water resources into the future.”

Forever chemicals make their way into water sources from treated wastewater going back out into the river. When it rains, anything containing PFAS washes off of streets and buildings, adding to the problem.

The whole situation is concerning because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that PFAS might cause health problems. The news out of New Mexico comes in the wake of the EPA’s announcement last week of the first-ever federal limits for five specific PFAS chemicals in drinking water.


Water quality sampler deployed on the Rio Grande in Alameda, New MexicoOpens in a new tab..  Public domain via the USGS news release.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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