New Air Force filtration plant removes PFAS from water at former Pease Air Force Base
By ELIZABETH DINAN | The Foster's Daily Democrat | Published: July 24, 2019
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — Air Force officials were joined by local activists, Mayor Jack Blalock and environmental professionals Tuesday to cut the ribbon for a groundwater filtration plant they say will remove contaminants which may result in adverse health effects at Pease International Tradeport.
The contaminants, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), have been linked to firefighting foam used when the tradeport was an active Air Force base, before its 1991 closure.
The Environmental Protection Agency has advised that tests on lab animals have shown exposure to PFAS chemicals "may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes)."
In addition to firefighting foam, the chemicals have been used to make carpets, clothing, furniture upholstery, paper food packaging and non-stick cookware, the EPA reports. They also have a range of applications in the aerospace, aviation, automotive and electronics industries, among others.
Stephen TerMaath, chief of the Air Force BRAC Program Management Division, told the Portsmouth Herald Tuesday that final adjustments are being made to the filtration system, which should be operating at 100% within a few weeks. He said the system pumps groundwater, filters it through 6,000 pounds of carbon and a granular "resin," then returns it cleaned to the ground.
Contaminants filtered by the carbon and resin will be incinerated, as was all of the legacy firefighting foam the Air Force had with PFOS and PFOA around the country, he said.
Called an Airfield Interim Mitigation System (AIMS) groundwater treatment plant, its construction began in May 2018 by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at a cost of $12.6 million, it was announced Tuesday. Its purpose, said Air Force officials, is to protect drinking water from levels of PFOS and PFOA that exceed the EPA's health advisory levels, by intercepting contamination "spreading from up-gradient sources toward the city's Haven drinking-water well." The Haven well was closed in 2014 when levels of PFOS and PFOA were found to exceed EPA's provisional health advisories.
Nine miles of piping and 12,000 feet of drilling were part of plant construction, without disruption to air service, TerMaath said.
John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy, called the groundwater treatment plant a milestone that honors the Air Force's commitment to addressing contaminants at military installations across the country. He said the Air Force is actively addressing the problem and is taking its responsibility to do so seriously and "based on good science."
Henderson noted the Air Force has spent $58 million to date to protect drinking water around Pease International Tradeport.
Blalock called the plant good news and part of an overall process. He said he was proud of the local and national efforts that brought the plant to fruition, "to clean this valuable aquifer." The mayor said he also looks forward to 2021 when construction should be complete for a process to remove PFOS/PFOA at the city's Grafton Road drinking water plant. In a September 2018 agreement with the city, the Air Force committed to fund $14.7 million for that technology.
Andrea Amico and Alayna Davis, mothers who became activists because their children were exposed to contaminated water at a Pease day care center, both expressed optimism during Tuesday's ceremony.
"It's a really positive step in the right direction and I'm really happy for this moment," Amico said. "In government terms, this was super fast."
Davis said the AIMS plant is the result of great collaboration and she called it one step in a process.
Henderson said the Air Force response has also included a groundwater treatment plant, known as the Site 8 System, which began operation in March 2018 at a cost of $7.8 million. He said that plant protects private drinking-water supplies in Newington, north of a former Pease fire-training area.
A letter from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was read by her staffer Peter Clark and said, "Pease serves as an example for the rest of the nation." A representative of U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan read a letter calling the plant an important piece of remediation for the Pease tradeport area.
Bryan Olson, of the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the AIMS plant was fast tracked, will pump and clean 350 million gallons of water a year and "ensure the long-term safety of Pease drinking water."