Seacoast advocates urge more action on water contamination
by Jeff McMenemy, originally posted on April 18, 2016
PORTSMOUTH — A local community group is asking state officials to do more to protect residents from a group of chemicals that forced the closing of the city-owned Haven Well at the former Pease Air Force Base.
“As a community facing a contamination, we should not have to continue to question the safety of our drinking water,” Portsmouth resident Andrea Amico, along with Dover residents Alayna Davis and Michelle Dalton, said in a letter they sent to Gov. Maggie Hassan and the state’s congressional delegation.
The local moms recently formed a community action group and launched a new website, testingforpease.com, to address the contaminated water at the Pease International Tradeport, which is home to two day-care centers and more than 275 businesses and 9,000 workers.
The city of Portsmouth closed the Haven well in May 2014 after the Air Force found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid 12.5 times higher than the EPA’s provisional health advisory.
The Environmental Protection Agency classified PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which was also found in Haven well but below provisional health advisory (PHA) levels, as “contaminants of emerging concern.” PFOS and PFOA are a class of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals. PFCs were also found in the city-owned Smith and Harrison wells at Pease tradeport but never above the PHA.
The EPA has not set an enforceable drinking water standard for PFOA under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the state Department of Environmental Services said in a recent press release about PFOA found in wells in Merrimack and Litchfield.
EPA’s Office of Water has, however, established a PHA of 400 parts per trillion for PFOA, but that level is only for short-term contact, it acknowledged.
The community group stressed in the April 12 letter that they are not just concerned with the PFOA and PFOS contamination, but all of the PFCs that are in the water.
“We as a group are concerned that although action was taken to shut down the Haven well at Pease (with levels of the perfluorinated compound PFOS testing at 12.5 times over the provisional health advisory), our community was, and continues to be, exposed to other PFC class chemicals that are potentially just as (or more) stable with even less existing research on the possible health effects on us and our environment,” the group said in the letter.
They noted that “many other PFCs that carry the same characteristics as PFOS and PFOA, where they bio accumulate in the body, persist in our environment and blood for years, and have very long half-lives,” were found in the Haven Well, including PFHxS, which was detected at 830 parts per trillion.
Plus, the women noted that other states — including Vermont, New Jersey and Michigan — have set their own lower health advisory levels for PFCs and not waited for the EPA to set a permanent lifetime health advisory for PFOA.
“We would like to see the state take their own proactive measures that we’ve seen other states doing,” Amico said in an interview Monday.
She described the EPA’s plan to set a permanent health advisory only for PFOA as “disturbing.”
“I haven’t read anything on any PFCs that show anything good associated with them,” Amico said.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has stated that the studies that have been done on people “have shown that certain PFCs may be associated with “developmental delays in the fetus and child,” decreased fertility, increased cholesterol, “changes to the immune system,” and “prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer.”
Air Force officials believe the PFCs that contaminated the wells came from firefighting foam that was used at the former base and is still used by the Air Force.
The Testing for Pease group wants the state to lower its PHA recommendations for PFOA , set a PHA for PFHxS and “take the lead in offering more specific health recommendations to guide healthcare providers in proactively monitoring the healthcare of their patients with elevated PFCs in their blood.”
They also called on the state to “propose alternative drinking water supplies for the Pease community based on existing low level PFCs in the Smith and Harrison wells while we await treatment of the wells.”
William Hinkle, spokesman for Hassan, said Monday “Gov. Hassan knows that we must act aggressively to address water contamination and ensure access to safe and clean drinking water now and into the future.”
“The governor continues to push state and federal public health and environmental officials to address and protect against water contamination, including urging the United States Environmental Protection Agency to issue a lifetime health advisory for states to assess the safety of drinking water and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to provide resources for a long-term biomonitoring program for those exposed to PFCs, as a well as a health consultation to assess potential health impacts,” Hinkle said.
He added that Hassan “understands the concerns of Testing for Pease and other concerned citizens, and she appreciates the attention that they have brought to this important issue, as well as their continued engagement.”
“The Governor’s Office is working as quickly as possible with the state’s public health and environmental experts on a comprehensive response to the specific, detailed requests brought forward by Testing for Pease,” Hinkle said.
The group also received a response from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s office, but are waiting to hear from the rest of the state’s Congressional delegation, Amico said.
The letter comes as the Air Force is scheduled to hold its first meeting Tuesday of the Restoration Advisory Board to discuss “the ongoing environmental restoration of Pease,” according to a press release from the United States Air Force.
Tuesday’s meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at the Department of Environmental Services office located at 222 International Drive in Portsmouth, and will start at 6:30 p.m.