Air Force lays out well treatment plans, public calls for health monitoring
PORTSMOUTH – City officials and residents urged Air Force officials to treat the city-owned Smith and Harrison wells on the former Pease Air Force base and to pay for ongoing monitoring for people exposed to contaminated water.
Steve TerMaath, the chief of the Air Force’s Base Realignment and Closure program, repeatedly said the Air Force would rely on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) recommendations when it came to treating the two remaining open city wells on the former Pease Air Force Base.
City Councilor Stefany Shaheen, pushed to treat both wells rather than just wait for the contamination that closed the city-owned Haven well to migrate to the other wells.
“I can tell you from our perspective….I don’t care what the ATSDR says, we’ve got a population of people that have been exposed to contamination that’s been put in the water supply by the Air Force,” Shaheen said during a meeting held Wednesday night in City Council chambers.
Shaheen told Air Force representatives that the city would continue to advocate for treatment of the Smith and Harrison wells and for ongoing monitoring of people exposed to contaminated city water.
Several parents who attended Wednesday’s meeting also repeated Shaheen’s call for treating the open wells at the former Pease Air Force Base, which is now a Superfund clean-up site.
Andrea Amico, the Portsmouth mother who spearheaded efforts to make blood testing available for anyone who was exposed to the contaminated water, said she “was disappointed that there was not more information about what they’re (the Air Force) going to do from a health perspective.”
“I think a lot of parents were hoping to hear the same thing,” Amico said during an interview after the meeting.
The city closed the Haven well at Pease International Tradeport in May 2014 after the Air Force tested the well and found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) 12.5 times higher than the EPA’s Provisional Health Advisory (PHA).
The EPA classified PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which was also found in the Haven well but below the health advisory levels, as “contaminants of emerging concern” because of their potential harm to people. PFOS and PFOA are a class of chemicals known as PFCs, or perfluorochemicals.
State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan reported recently that the average of the first 98 adult blood tests for people exposed to PFOS, PFOA and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid or PFHxS, were all higher than the national average. Chan said PFC exposure can potentially cause “immune system effects, hormone dysfunction, certain types of cancer (kidney, testicle, thyroid), etc.”
The Haven well is located under the main runway.
Tests have detected PFC levels in both the Smith and Harrison wells but never above the PHA.
Shaheen’s comments came after Air Force officials stated by the fall of 2016 they will install a charcoal-based system to treat the Haven well with the intention of reopening it.
Val de la Fuente, the BRAC program execution branch chief, said the proposed system has been effective in treating PFCs to “basically a non-detect level.”
“The Air Force’s goal is to have the water available as soon as the system is operating,” de la Fuente stated.
But he then added that “there has to be an adequate amount of time to ensure the water’s quality.”
TerMaath acknowledged that “the PFC solution will take time.”
“What I mean by that is there is PFCs in that groundwater up there,” TerMaath said. “It’s going to be a long road to get to the final endpoint.”
He stressed that the Air Force was “taking actions now that will continue to be part of that solution.”
EPA representative Lynne Jennings also announced at the meeting that the agency was “in the process of revising the provisional health advisory” for PFCs.
The EPA in July issued an administrative order to the U.S. Air Force compelling it to treat the city-owned wells at Pease International Tradeport that have been tainted by the PFCs and to restore and protect the aquifer at the former Air Force base.
“This aquifer is a very valuable aquifer and it needs to be restored,” Jennings said.
She stated there was a “fundamental difference between the agency’s position and the Air Force’s position,” and said the order was issued to force the Air Force to get into the “mode of restoring it.”
She also noted that the EPA had hoped the Air Force’s response to the contaminated water “would have gone a little bit faster.”
The EPA wants to assure residents that “you’ll have a clean water supply you’ll be able to use in the future,” she said.
The Air Force also announced that it plans to establish “intercept wells” to prevent the PFCs from migrating to the Smith and Harrison wells.
The Air Force also plans to establish more than 40 new monitoring wells to better track the contamination and to define the boundaries of the PFC exposure with a “large scale investigation” by the spring of 2016.
Mark Kinkade, chief of public affairs for the Air Force’s Civil Engineer Center, also said the Air Force plans to reestablish the Restoration Advisory Board.
“It serves a very important purpose,” he said, and called it “an opportunity for your community to work with the Air Force hand in hand in developing solutions.”
The meeting was hosted by the Community Advisory Board that was established by the state Department of Health and Human Services to deal with the contamination of the city-owned well.
Mayor Robert Lister repeated his call for ongoing “monitoring of blood levels over a period of time for children and adults in the community.”
“This has to be given some major attention,” Lister said, “especially for kids.”
Amico also pressed Air Force officials about their responsibility for the contamination.
TerMaath responded that “I can’t say for every person we’re responsible.”
NH DHHS has launched a second round of blood testing through mid-October.
To sign up or get your child signed up, call their public inquiry line at 271-9461.