PORTSMOUTH — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to the secretary of the Air Force on Wednesday, sharing her concerns about the financial implications of the contamination of the Haven Well at Pease International Tradeport.
“I’m deeply concerned about the situation,” Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote in the letter to Deborah Lee James, secretary of the Air Force. “The city of Portsmouth will face a significant financial challenge in replacing the Haven Well as a supply source.”
“Given that the former Pease Air Force Base is a Superfund site and that the firefighter foam the Air Force used at the base contained PFCs (perfluorochemicals), I would urge the department of the Air Force to include in the draft memorandum of understanding … the provisions Mr. (City Manager John) Bohenko outlines in his letter,” Shaheen continued.
Bohenko recently said city officials will ask the Air Force to “make us whole,” for any cleanup or legal costs associated with the contamination.
State officials announced in May that the Haven Well, which is located under the airfield between the apron and runway, was contaminated with perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS. The well, which serviced the tradeport, was immediately shut down.
PFOS is one of a class of chemicals known as PFCs, or perfluorochemicals, according to a press release from the state. Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid has been classified as a “contaminant of emerging concern” by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Citing concerns raised by people working at the tradeport or living near the former Air Force base, Shaheen also asked James “to conduct additional testing to insure (sic) that any private well in the vicinity is safe.”
“I know you share the goals of protecting the health and safety of the public,” Shaheen wrote in the letter. “Thank you for insuring (sic) the problems that have resulted from the contamination of the Haven Well continue to be a priority for the department.”
Bohenko’s letter to the Air Force, dated June 2, references a meeting city officials had with Air Force officials on May 28.
In it, Bohenko notes the Air Force officials discussed “how the Air Force BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) program will support efforts to address a long-term solution to the loss of an important Pease International Tradeport and city water source.”
Bohenko states that the Air Force has agreed to work with city officials to draft a memorandum of understanding, “which will define the mechanisms to respond to the loss of the Haven Well … as well as the monitoring and potential treatment of the Smith and Harrison Wells.”
Those two wells are also located at the tradeport.
The city wants the memorandum to cover ongoing testing of the Haven aquifer and other city wells and “investigations regarding the extent of contamination, hydrogeology and ongoing monitoring at the aquifer,” according to Bohenko’s letter.
He notes in the letter that the city has already negotiated a contract with a limit of $15,000 with Weston & Sampson to help with the investigations.
The city also wants the Air Force to “provide assistance with our hydrogeological investigations to further assess potential replacement sources of groundwater” and “assessment of potential water treatment systems for the Pease Wells.”
“We will track all of the costs that the city is incurring with respect to these efforts separately for reimbursement by the Air Force,” Bohenko states in the letter. “We all agree that time is of the essence and we appreciate your strong commitment to assist the city with these efforts.”
State officials recently held a meeting at the tradeport to address health concerns raised by people who work there or live nearby. Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, deputy epidemiologist for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said tests in animals have shown health risks from PFCs, but so far there have been no studies which showed any health risks for humans.
“There’s not been a conclusive determination that there’s a health risk,” Talbot said.
PFOS is an organic chemical that has been used in a variety of commercial and consumer products, such as stain and water repellents, firefighting foams and nonstick cookware, according to the EPA.
Talbot also said the chemical is used in a variety of products and most people have detectable levels in their bodies.
“They’re hard to get rid of in the environment and in our bodies,” Talbot said.
But she and other officials did not recommend that anyone be tested for the chemical, because there’s no proof even higher levels cause any harm.
“I don’t think we can make a conclusion that there’s been a health risk because of this event,” Talbot said.