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Posts Tagged ‘milk’

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Photo: Don J. Usner for Searchlight New Mexico
Art Schaap had a successful dairy farm in Clovis, New Mexico. After he learned that “forever chemicals” from a military base were polluting his cows’ milk, everything changed.

Suzanne has a college friend who writes well-researched investigations into things that go wrong in our world and what people are doing to address them.

In this report at the Huffington Post, Sara Van Note writes about dangerous “forever chemicals” getting into our food supply.

“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.

“Schaap and his family, the letter said, should immediately stop drinking the water. Schaap, 54, is a third-generation dairy farmer [and] has been raising cows and crops here since 1992. Air Force officials told him they’d supply his family with bottled water. But he wondered about his cows.

‘Milk is 90% water,’ he thought. ‘It kind of hit me like a rock,’ he recalled in a recent interview, ‘that my cows are drinking this polluted water.’

“Testing by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture showed that his milk was contaminated at levels 70 times above a federal advisory health limit for PFAS. The compounds are often called ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down and instead accumulate over time in the environment and the bodies of animals and humans.

“When Schaap found out his water was polluted, neither the state Agriculture Department nor the Food and Drug Administration had a protocol for testing milk for PFAS — they developed a test expressly for his milk.

When Schaap sent his first samples to the Agriculture Department for testing, he made the decision to dump his milk in order to avoid selling a potentially contaminated product.

” ‘Schaap has since laid off 35 employees, and his 4,000 cows — not to mention his family’s health and livelihood — are in limbo. …

“Some Clovis dairy farmers have installed filtration systems on their wells, at a cost of about $260,000 per system, with yearly maintenance costs around $50,000. The Schaaps have not — the price is simply too high for the level of contamination in multiple wells, with no guarantee of adequate purification.

“The farmers say the contamination is an ‘existential threat’ not only to their livelihoods but to the region’s economic future. …

“The nonprofit Environmental Working Group estimates it has affected over 1,300 locations in 49 states, based on an analysis of state and federal records. That includes more than 400 military sites that used firefighting foam with PFAS compounds, according to the Pentagon. …

“A highly publicized case of PFAS contamination from a DuPont factory in West Virginia became the basis for the new Hollywood film ‘Dark Waters’ starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway. But Schaap’s case, which the small nonprofit news outlet Searchlight New Mexico highlighted earlier [in 2019], is only the second known example of dairy contamination. …

“Linda Birnbaum, recently retired as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said [she’d] like to see a larger array of foods surveyed from multiple communities across the country, and she noted that the tests measured just 16 PFAS compounds, leaving out the potential impact of thousands of more chemicals. …

“Given the uncertainty around federal PFAS limits for drinking water, several states are moving to create their own limits.”  More.

Happy to say my state is working on this issue. I hope yours is, too.

P.S. The above report was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit investigative news organization.

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When I told my husband that playwriting teacher Peter Littlefield wanted class members to base a scene on an early moment when we first looked objectively at the adult world, he volunteered memories of his own.

Last weekend, Suzanne, John, and their spouses got to hear about a Philadelphia childhood and the horse that delivered milk, going reliably to the next house while the deliveryman placed bottles at the last one. They learned about an elementary school visit to a dairy company, and how it hit my husband so young that some men spend their whole lives lifting bottles into crates. He also remembered catching the tail end of the street lamplighter age. He has since mentioned ice delivery at the Jersey Shore and how you would put a special sign in the window indicating how many pounds of ice you wanted for that week.

There was also coal delivery in large canvas bags. Believe it or not, my husband is not that old.

Even Suzanne and John should remember that coal was delivered next door for several years after we moved to town. And clearly coal is still being delivered somewhere, as in this video a guy put on YouTube. I especially like the speech balloons he added.

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