PORTSMOUTH — City Manager John Bohenko said the city has asked the U.S. Air Force to “explore treatment options” for the “contaminant of emerging concern” that has already closed one city-owned well and could threaten two others.
“We’ve asked the Air Force to pay for it,” Bohenko said in an interview this week about the contaminant that closed the city-owned Haven well at the Pease International Tradeport. “We’re also going to ask the Air Force to pay for 10 years of operating maintenance.”
His comments came a week after Scott Hilton, project manager for the state Department of Environmental Services’ Pease Superfund site, said the move to shut off the Haven well means it’s now more likely the contamination that closed that well could travel to other wells. “Now that the Haven well is shut off, we are concerned about the impact of the contamination flowing to the southern well field,” Hilton said Friday.
The field, which is located under the transportation center at the tradeport, is the site of the Smith and Harrison wells.
City officials closed down the Haven well last May after the Air Force tested the well and found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) 10 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s Provisional Health Advisory, Hilton said. The EPA has classified PFOS as a “contaminant of emerging concern” because of its potential harm to people. PFOS are a class of chemicals known as PFCs, or perfluorochemicals, according to state officials.
Testing done on the Smith and Harrison wells have found the presence of PFCs, Hilton said, but at levels below the Provisional Health Advisory.
Deputy Department of Public Works Director Brian Goetz stressed, as Hilton did, that all the wells are surrounded by sentry wells that are repeatedly tested and monitored so they can track where the contamination is and if it’s moving.
But Goetz, in an April 24 memo to Air Force and other officials, acknowledged the threat of migration exists.
“We are not certain at this point what future regulations may be with respect to these contaminants and also are not sure that migration of the higher level contaminants from the Haven Well may move toward our remaining wells and cause PFC levels to increase on those sources,” Goetz said in the memo. “If so, we want to be prepared to implement treatment.”
He referenced a pilot treatment program for PFCs being used in New Jersey and asked the Air Force “to investigate treatment options,” but he does not ask for the Air Force to pay for the treatment in the memo.
Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine said city officials must work aggressively to get commitments from the Air Force to pay for the clean-up, and the total amount for opening a new well to replace the Haven Well.
“The most important challenge is to make sure our water is safe,” Splaine said.
Andrea Amico, whose two children attend day care at the former Pease Air Force base, sent an e-mail to several city officials a week ago asking them to “please consider shutting down the two remaining wells at Pease.”
“Pease is a Superfund site and there was significant contamination when it was an active Air Force base,” Amico wrote in her e-mail to city officials.
There were 37 different contaminated sites on Pease identified when the Air Force signed an agreement compelling them to pay for the clean-up, according to a copy of an agreement between the state and the Air Force signed in December 1990.
The contaminated sites include six landfills, two fire department training areas, two “construction rubble dumps,” a solvent disposal site, “munitions residue burial site” and a “munitions storage site solvent disposal site,” according to a copy of the agreement.
Splaine said the Air Force “continues to have an obligation here.”
“They’re trying to avoid any obligations they can,” Splaine said.
Bohenko agreed the Air Force should be forced to pay for all clean-up and treatment costs at the former Pease Air Force base.
“We have to negotiate with them, they have their constraints, too,” Bohenko said, but then added, “We believe this is their issue.”
City officials announced in October that they reached a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Air Force concerning the contamination of the Haven Well.
Deputy City Attorney Suzanne Woodland stated in a memo to Bohenko that the Air Force had agreed to pay the city $154,000 for the initial costs to find a new water supply.
Goetz said last week finding a new well and bringing it online could cost as much as $3 million.
He said Friday it could take “anywhere from two to five years for a new water source to be brought into the system.”
“It is a very involved process to determine sites that have both the quantity and quality of water needed for a public water system,” Goetz said.