Study Reveals Extraordinary Levels of PSAS at Holloman: Persistent and Complex Threat to Humans and Wildlife Health.


A biodiverse food web at Holloman Air Force Base is permeated with PFAS according to new UNM Study ( 2nd Life Media)

In a newly released study by the University of New Mexico it found that there are extremely high levels of PFAS contamination in nearly two dozen bird and mammal species at the lake near Holloman Air Force Base. This lake is an important breeding ground for migratory birds that researchers say is now toxic with levels nearly three or four times the amount of PFAS that’s considered dangerous.

Per the study, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment pose persistent and complex threats to human and wildlife health. Around the world, PFAS point sources such as military bases expose thousands of populations of wildlife and game species, with potentially far-reaching implications for population and ecosystem health. But few studies shed light on the extent to which PFAS permeate food webs, particularly ecologically and taxonomically diverse communities of primary and secondary consumers.

“We were shocked by the results. We’ve seen wildlife PFAS data from around the world, and the concentrations we’re finding at Holloman are as high as have been seen at chemical spill sites near chemical manufacturing facilities,” said Christopher Witt, professor of biology at UNM to KRQE News.

The University of New Mexico (UNM) study has raised questions about wild duck meat after researchers found ‘extraordinary’ levels of chemical contamination in birds near Holloman Air Force Base. Experts spoke about how widespread the problem could be.

Wild game doesn’t come with warning stickers,” said Rick Shean, division director of the Resource Protection Division with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).

It’s the environment department’s reaction to a major discovery of chemical contamination in southern New Mexico’s wild birds.

Per a release from UNM, although PFAS have been found in various wildlife worldwide, the new findings are unprecedented for exceptionally high concentrations across numerous species. Across 23 species of birds and mammals, PFAS concentrations averaged in the tens of thousands of parts per billion. To put this in perspective, the research team pointed out that thousands of dairy cattle in Clovis, N.M., recently had to be destroyed because their milk was contaminated at less than six parts per billion.

The study focused on the area around Holloman Lake, situated between Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands National Park, in the middle of the vast, dry Tularosa basin. The lake is part of a system of waste-water catchment ponds that the Air Force created.

Because these large wetlands are the only ones in the region, they are immensely attractive to wildlife,said MSB Director and Professor of Biology Christopher Witt, and the lead author of the study. “Holloman is one of the three most important wetlands in New Mexico for migratory waterbirds —over 100 species and tens of thousands of individuals use these habitats annually,Witt explained. “The wetlands are also heavily used by people for recreation and hunting.”

The leading cause of contamination is thought to be the fire-fighting foam that was deployed over decades by the U.S. Air Force. The foam contained a mix of toxic PFAS that have since been phased out of manufacturing. Starting around 1970, the foam was widely used for training exercises at military installations. At Holloman A.F.B., runoff flowed into the waste-water catchments.

Remarkably, the team found that both aquatic and terrestrial species tended to be heavily contaminated.

There were differences among species in how much of each PFAS they contained, reflecting differences in their habitats, diet, and physiology,” said Chauncey Gadek, co-author on the study and Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology. “Ultimately, these differences illustrate the different paths by which PFAS can move through ecosystems and accumulate in various species, including people.”

Hunting is popular at Holloman Lake as well as in the surrounding region. The new study showed that consuming wild game from the site could be harmful. Based on the average PFAS concentrations found in duck meat from the site, it would never be advisable to consume as much as a single gram (for comparison, a U.S. penny weighs 2.5 grams). More research will be needed to understand the degree of risk that PFAS pollution poses to human health in the region. For example, exposure could occur by breathing wind-blown particles or by consuming the meat of the oryx or free-ranging cattle that also frequent the area.

The isolated desert wetlands that form an oasis for animals also acted as a trap for the accumulation of contaminants.

Conclusion per the study are that more research is needed: the biotic communities of Holloman AFB wetlands and surrounding terrestrial habitats are extraordinarily contaminated with PFAS, especially legacy, long carbon-chain forms. Our results show that diverse bird and mammal species at middle trophic levels accumulate PFAS in their tissues at levels that far exceed those known to be harmful. Permeation of the primary and secondary consumer community at such high tissue concentrations is essentially unprecedented among previous PFAS surveys.

Expanded monitoring of this desert oasis site is needed, including at higher and lower trophic levels. This self-contained, isolated wetland provides an unusually tractable opportunity to understand PFAS movement through a food web, as well as to assess effects on animal health and condition. Few PFAS-exposed wild populations or communities have been adequately screened to date, but such data are urgently needed to establish baselines, parameterize models, and estimate risks to wildlife, livestock, and human health. Biorepositories such as the frozen tissue collections of natural history museums, could bolster such efforts by providing spatiotemporally and taxonomically broad sampling with robust data (Schindel and Cook, 2018). The health of humans who use the Holloman AFB area for hunting or recreation should also be monitored closely, and this population could be considered a sentinel for the overall health of this contaminated environment (Andrews et al., 2023).

A key concern arising from our results is the potential effects of PFAS on migratory animal populations that are attracted to these wetlands at all times of year. Numerous migratory populations — including game species and declining species —stopover at Holloman AFB wetlands while traveling between widely dispersed localities in North, Central, and South America. Dispersal of these contaminated migratory animals potentially poses risks to predators and hunters across a broad area. To understand these risks, we need to study species-specific dynamics of PFAS bioaccumulation in conjunction with full annual cycles of migration and reproduction. More specifically, it should be considered urgent for both conservation and public health to understand the temporal dynamics of PFAS tissue accumulation during stopover or wintering periods.

UNM researchers said that more studies will be needed to understand the longer term risk that PFAS pollution poses to human health in the region over the long haul.

To review the details of the complete study visit…

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