Clean Water Act Action Needed on Contaminants of Emerging Concern and Persistent Toxic Pollutants

As drought continues, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission will take up important regulatory water issues, including how to define the two phrases, contaminants of emerging concern and persistent toxic pollutants.  An unfortunate principle in water regulation is dilution is the solution to pollution.  During drought, when there is less water to dilute pollutants, concentrations increase and cause harm.

The Clean Water Act requires states to review their water quality standards every three years.  The process is called the Triennial Review.  Unfortunately, the Triennial Review process takes longer than three years to complete.  For example, the last Triennial Review took seven years to wrap up and the one before that took nine.  Such delays result in fewer reviews.  During this time, three more reviews could have been done.  Such delays benefit the regulated community because more protective regulations are not debated and possibly approved.

The next Triennial Review public hearing begins on Tuesday, July 13th.  The industries challenging the proposed pollutant definitions are the New Mexico Mining Association, the San Juan Water Commission, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Those supporting the proposed definitions are Amigos Bravos, Communities for Clean Water, the Gila Resources Information Project, and the Buckman Direct Diversion Board.  There will be opportunities for the public to provide comments before and during the multi-day virtual hearing.

Emerging and persistent pollutants are suspected of causing harm to the ecology and human health, but have not been thoroughly studied to establish regulatory standards.  Contaminants of emerging concern include chemical compounds found in pharmaceuticals and personal care products. See Pleading Log No. 6, NMED’s March 12, 2021 Notice of Amended Petition for proposed definition at, p. 3. Persistent toxic pollutants are those that resist degradation, easily bioaccumulate, and harm aquatic life and human health.  See Pleading Log No. 6, NMED’s March 12, 2021 Notice of Amended Petition for proposed definition at, p. 5.

One class of the persistent pollutants is PFASs, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances.  PFASs have been around since the 1940s and are found in Teflon and in military-grade fire retardants.  It is estimated there are between 5,000 and 10,000 individual PFASs.

In New Mexico, there are large PFASs groundwater plumes at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases.  Most New Mexicans rely on groundwater for their drinking water.   

This week the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing about “PFAS:  The View from Affected Citizens and States” to learn what citizens and states need from the federal government to address them.  New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney provided written and verbal testimony.  He stated that people must be protected from drinking contaminated water and urged the Environmental Protection Agency to establish national drinking water standards for PFASs.  The archived webcast and written testimony is available at:

Debate about whether New Mexico would adopt them could occur in the next Triennial Review.

Did You Know?  We are Podcasting! 


1.  Every Friday from noon to 1 pm – Protest LANL signing a 10-year lease (for the former Descartes building) to establish itself “permanently” in Santa Fe at the corner of Guadalupe and W. Alameda.  JOIN Veterans for Peace, CCNS, Nuclear Watch NM, and others.  We’ll have banners.  Please bring a sign.



2.  Wednesday, June 16th from 2 to 4 pm – Individual Stormwater Permit for LANL Virtual Public Meeting. Presentations by Communities for Clean Water and N3B about Draft Permit Update and Monitoring Plan Overview, Proposal for Site-specific Copper Water Quality Criteria, and Enhanced Controls – 2021 Plans.  The last 30 minutes is devoted to Questions & Answers.  LANL is required under the Settlement Agreement with the Communities for Clean Water (CCW) to hold semi-annual public meetings about its implementation and compliance with the EPA permit.



3.  Th. June 24th from 5:30 to 7 pm – NM Environmental Law Center Environmental Justice Series about Radiation Contamination in Northern New Mexico with the Communities for Clean Water. CCW’s mission is to ensure that community waters impacted by LANL are kept safe for drinking, agriculture, sacred ceremonies, and a sustainable future.  To register:  


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