Andrea Amico first learned that PFAS chemicals had contaminated a Portsmouth well five years ago when she read about it in the Portsmouth Herald.
“I was worried because the fact they had shut down the well showed me how serious it was,” Amico said. “I was worried because my two children and my husband were at the time drinking the water every day, and I didn’t know how it would affect them.”
At that time, she didn’t know what PFAS chemicals were.
Five years later, Amico still worries about the short- and long-term health implications the exposure could have on her family.
But the Portsmouth mother of three has become one of the most well-known community activists in the state as she and others fight to protect the community from PFAS exposure.
She has learned so much about PFAS that she is often invited to speak about the class of chemicals and participates in local, state and national groups dealing with PFAS exposure.
Amico, along with Alayna Davis and Michelle Dalton, co-founded Testing for Pease, a community group that has successfully advocated for blood tests for people exposed to the contaminants and for treatment of the Portsmouth wells at the former Pease Air Force Base.
The three women, who are known as the “Pease moms,” have built strong relationships with the congressional delegation.
Their work with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen ended with New Hampshire’s senior senator passing legislation to create the first-ever national PFAS health study. The delegation also convinced the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is conducting the study, to have Pease serve as the model site for the national health study.
The experiences, Amico said, helped her evolve “significantly as a person.”
“I have been pushed way outside my comfort zone in public speaking and engaging with multiple people addressing PFAS,” Amico said this week during an interview at Pease International Tradeport.
Thousands of people working at the tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day-care centers there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned Haven well until its closure in 2014.
The tradeport is located at the former Air Force base, which remains a Superfund cleanup site. The city closed the Haven well in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, a dangerous PFAS chemical.
PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics and carpet. They also have a range of applications in the aerospace, aviation, automotive and electronics industries, among others.
The PFAS that contaminated the Haven well came from firefighting foam.
Amico’s biggest concern going forward “is the government is not acting fast enough to stop the exposure of these contaminants.”
Testing for Pease has called for both New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set “non-detect levels” for PFAS as a class of chemicals in drinking water.
“Based on the science that we’re seeing I think that there is enough evidence to be concerned that these chemicals cause harm to developing babies to nursing moms to children and adults,” Amico said. “We shouldn’t take any chances with the public’s health.”
The city of Portsmouth already has a treatment system on the Smith and Harrison wells at Pease and is in the process of building a new system to bring the Haven well back online.
That is something that worries Amico.
Portsmouth City Manager John Bohenko earlier this month said testing on the Haven well water has shown non-detect status for PFAS following the implementation of a carbon filtration system. He said the city expects to reintroduce the Haven well water back into the city’s system after a few more tests.
“I have expressed multiple times my concerns about the Haven well going back on line just because of the extensive history that it’s had, and other contamination problems that it’s had,” she said.
She also worries about what other chemicals might threaten the city’s wells because Pease remains a Superfund site.
There is a big lesson to be learned here with what happened with PFAS,” she added. “And I hope that we will never repeat history again.”
State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, credited Amico, Davis and Dalton with all they’ve accomplished.
“Andrea, and the same is true for Alayna and Michelle, have moved the PFAS issue onto a national stage,” Sherman said. “It’s remarkable.”
The thing they have proved, Sherman said, along with former state Rep. Mindi Messmer, is “just how powerful one person can be moving a cause forward.”
“They are clearly leaders who have just developed their skills and taken it to an entirely different level,” he said.
Messmer, who urged state officials to investigate what became a pediatric cancer cluster and passed a number of water-related bills, praised Amico for her work.
“I think it’s because of the work of people like Andrea who fought for change that has made all the difference in what we’ve accomplished so far,” she said.
*Original article online at https://www.fosters.com/news/20190525/amico-still-fighting-against-threat-of-pfas