Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Public Health Services, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) are today announcing a positive test result for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) from a well that serves the Pease Tradeport and the New Hampshire Air National Guard base at Pease. PFOS is one of a class of chemicals known as PFCs or perfluorochemicals. Because the level of PFOS exceeds the “provisional health advisory” set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the well was immediately shut down by the City of Portsmouth.
The water in the other two wells servicing Pease also contained PFCs but not above the provisional health advisory level. Out of an abundance of caution, the water system for the City of Portsmouth was also recently tested, since the systems at Pease and Portsmouth are linked, however, water from the Pease wells is rarely used to service the city of Portsmouth. The results were that no PFCs were detected in any of the other supply wells or surface water sources that serve the Portsmouth water system.
“The City of Portsmouth takes water quality and safety seriously and is working closely with the agencies to learn more about this unregulated compound. In the meantime, the Haven Well will remain off line,” said Brian Goetz, the City of Portsmouth Deputy Director of Public Works who is overseeing this effort with water operations staff.
PFCs have been used for decades in many commercial products, such as stain-resistant carpeting, fire-fighting foam, nonstick cookware, fabric coatings, and some food packaging. As a result, they are found throughout the environment. They do not break down readily in the environment or in our bodies so low levels of PFCs can be detected in the blood stream of most people.
“There is very little known about the health effects if any on people from these compounds,” said Dr. José Montero, Director of Public Health at DHHS. “Some animal studies have been conducted but have not led to any recommendations for people, and further studies are needed.”
The water in the wells that serve Pease Tradeport is routinely tested according to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements. PFCs are not covered in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, although six of these compounds are being evaluated by U.S. EPA to see if a drinking water standard is warranted, and EPA’s Office of Water established and released a Provisional Health Advisory for PFOS. Provisional Health Advisories reflect reasonable, health-based hazard concentrations above which action should be taken to reduce exposure to unregulated contaminants in drinking water.
“DES is working closely with the City of Portsmouth to address the presence of PFCs in the Pease Tradeport wells so that all health-based standards and advisories are met for water being served to their customers,” said Sarah Pillsbury, Administrator of New Hampshire’s Public Drinking Water Program at DES.
The Pease Tradeport previously operated as an Air Force base from 1956 to 1991. It is suspected that firefighting foam used by the Air Force starting around 1970 for plane crashes and training exercises contained PFCs that leached into the ground and consequently contaminated the well. The Former Pease Air Force Base is currently a Superfund site being cleaned up by the U.S. Air Force with oversight by DES and EPA. Investigations into the source(s) of this well contamination will be undertaken by the Air Force and overseen by DES and EPA.
DES, in collaboration with DHHS, the Pease Development Authority, and the City of Portsmouth will continue to monitor the wells at Pease to ensure the water continues to meet all EPA and State standards. Any new findings will be made available to the public.
An informational session for the public will be held next week. A date, time and location are being finalized and will be announced. For more information, visit http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/investigation-pease.htm. For questions about the well water testing, people can call (603) 271-9461. For more information about the monitoring by DES, go to http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/waste/hwrb/fss/superfund/summaries/pease.htm.