$30 million more targeted for water cleanup at former Pease AFB

Air National Guard KC-135R Stratotankers are parked on the flight line during a snow storm, Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H., Jan. 7, 2017.


By MICHAEL COUSINEAU | The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester | Published: July 31, 2017

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Air Force says it is committing another $30 million this year to help deal with water contamination at the former Pease Air Force Base.

About $13 million will be spent to build a groundwater treatment system to lessen perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanoic sulfonate (PFOS) impacts on the Haven drinking water well, which was shut down in May 2014 and once supplied about half the drinking water at Pease.

Exposure to those chemicals above certain levels may result in cancer or other illnesses, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Generally, we’re happy they’re looking at spending some money on solving this issue,” first-term Rep. Mindi Messmer, D-Rye, said Sunday.

But she said a lot more research is needed, including whether there is any potential link between the Pease contamination and a cluster of brain cancer cases in the Seacoast region, she said.

“We have an elevated level of brain cancers in the Portsmouth area in pediatric cases,” said Messmer, an environmental consultant for more than 25 years. “We really need to understand what’s in the water.”

Since 2014, the Air Force spent around $15 million on the initial response and investigation in Newington and on the Pease International Tradeport and almost $10 million on the design and construction of three separate interim mitigation systems.

“The Air Force is committed to the protection of human health and the environment,” Peter Forbes, Air Force environmental project manager at Pease, said in a statement.

According to the state Department of Environmental Services, voluntary testing in 2015 and 2016 of people who had worked at, lived on or attended child care at the base or tradeport showed higher levels of PFOS and PFOA in their blood samples compared with the general U.S. population in 2011–2012.

In September 2016, the city of Portsmouth finished installing equipment to filter and remove perfluorinated chemicals from the Harrison and Smith wells at the tradeport, according to the state DES website.

The Air Force said routine monitoring shows “there is no immediate threat to these wells and continued monitoring will ensure that does not change.”

The Haven well will remain offline until a new water treatment system, funded by the Air Force, is brought online by Portsmouth, according to the Air Force.

“While all necessary actions have been taken to ensure drinking water is safe from PFOS and PFOA,” the Air Force said it is taking a closer look at four areas needing more study: the former training area, former crash fire station, the KC-135 aircraft fire response area and firefighting equipment-testing area.

The Air Force base closed in 1991 and was turned over for civilian use.

Today, the Pease International Tradeport hosts more than 240 companies employing more than 10,000 people occupying 4 million square feet of office and industrial space, according to its website.

“Protecting the Portsmouth community is our priority,” Forbes said. “We have been working with the city, state and other health authorities to ensure PFOS and PFOA from the Air Force’s historic use of firefighting foam are not impacting drinking water sources.”

That impact was first identified in Pease’s northern area in a former fire training area referred to as “Site 8.” The Air Force confirmed the presence of PFOS/PFOA there and sampled the Haven well more than a mile away.

Messmer said more information is needed about what chemicals were included in the firefighting foam.

DES spokesman James Martin said his agency “is committed to continue to work with the Air Force and the city of Portsmouth to protect this important drinking water aquifer for future generations.”


©2017 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)
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