Fluoride Action Network

Pease well contaminant levels 10 times higher than EPA standards

Source: SeacoastOnline.com | January 26th, 2015 | By Jeff McMenemy
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

State has not tested Haven well since it shut down in May

PORTSMOUTH – The state has not tested the Haven well at the Pease International Tradeport since it was shut down last year after they found high levels of a “contaminant of emerging concern,” in the city-owned well.

But when the Air Force tested the well in April 2014, they found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid that were 10 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s Provisional Health Advisory (PHA), according to Scott E. Hilton, the project manager for the state Department of Environmental Services’ Pease Superfund site.

The EPA has stated that PFOS are organic chemicals that have been used in a variety of products, including fire-fighting foams. They are known to have adverse effects in laboratory animals.

“Recent epidemiology data suggests the possibility for some adverse effects on human health,” according to an EPA website.

When the Haven well was tested on April 16 for PFOS, the level in the water was 2.5 micrograms per liter, according to Hilton.

The provisional health advisory is .2 micrograms per liter, he said.

“So it was about 10 times the standard,” Hilton said.

Asked to characterize the test results, Hilton said, “It’s high. It’s higher than the PHA. We were one of the first bases in the country to discover it.”

Officials believe the Haven well, which is located under the main runaway, was contaminated by the firefighting foam.

State and U.S. Air Force officials have not tested the city-owned well since they found the contaminant in the water because the city doesn’t intend to use it again and they would lose a sizeable amount of water turning it on, Hilton said during an interview Friday.

But testing has continued in monitoring wells around the Haven well, and those tests continue to be above the PHA, Hilton said.

Tests done on the other two city-owned wells at Pease, the Harrison and Smith wells, have detected PFOs, but those have been below the PHA, he said.

“It appears to be related to the fire-fighting foam,” Hilton said.

But he stressed those wells are being continually tested, as are monitoring wells around them.

“They are located a distance away so we can see any (contamination approaching) before they get to the wells,” Hilton said.

That way, if the city ever needed to, the wells could be shut down before the PFOs level go above the PHA standard, he said.

Officials also found PFOs at the northern end of the main runaway, where fire departments used to use the fire-fighting foam as part of their training, Hilton said.

They believe that’s how the PFOS traveled to a Newington homeowner’s well, which is now above the PHA level, Hilton said.

“Yes that’s what we believe happened,” he said.

PFOs are being examined more closely now that they’ve also been found at a couple other bases around the country, Hilton said.

But he stressed officials have taken “all the correct steps,” and “the very vigorous testing” of the other public wells is ongoing.

“We’re trying to understand exactly where the contamination came from,” Hilton said, and added, “We’re looking at the entire aquifer.”

His comments came after Portsmouth resident Andrea Amico told the Portsmouth Herald two weeks ago that she began contacting state officials in May to find out where she could get her children and husband tested after they were exposed to the contaminant.

Her children attend a day care at Pease and her husband works at the former Air Force Base, which is now a Superfund site.

But at the time, state officials have not said when the blood testing would be available and who it would be available for.

City officials last week called on the state to provide blood testing for children and adults who have been exposed to the contaminated water.

City Councilor Stefany Shaheen last week said “it’s totally unacceptable that families have had to wait this long,” to get testing or even answers to when the testing might begin.

PFOS is one of a class of chemicals known as PFCs, or perfluorochemicals, according to state officials.

Like Amico and other city officials, Shaheen believes the U.S. Air Force should pay for the blood testing. The tradeport used to be the Pease Air Force Base and is a Superfund site.

“I think ultimately the Air Force is responsible for the contamination and because they’re responsible, they should be the ones who pay for it,” Shaheen said.

William Hinkle, spokesperson for Gov. Maggie Hassan said last week that the state Department of Health and Human Services’ testing protocol should be finalized sometime this week, but still requires approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hinkle added that Hassan would be working with the state Department of Health and Human Services “to determine how to handle cost issues.”

In addition, Hassan sent a letter to the CDC last week urging them to approve the state protocol.

“Of particular concern is the fact that the water system also services a day care located on the base and that children may have come in contact with the contaminant,” Hassan said in the letter to the CDC.