New contaminated groundwater treatment system in place at former Former Pease AFB
By JEFF MCMENEMY | The Portsmouth Herald | Published: July 28, 2018
NEWINGTON, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen got a tour Friday morning of the state-of-the art $9.3 million treatment plant at the former Firefighting Training Area at the former Pease Air Force Base.
The system is one of the first of its kind in the country, according to Stephen TerMaath, chief of the BRAC Program Management Division of the U.S. Air Force.
The pump-and-treat system is not only cleaning up the highly contaminated groundwater at the site, but it will help prevent water contaminated with PFAS chemicals from endangering residential wells in Newington, he said Friday during a tour of the facility, which was held for Shaheen and area media representatives.
The roughly $9.3 million used to build the plant, which began operations in April, is part of the estimated $35 million to $40 million the Air Force has spent in total to clean up contamination at the former Pease Air Force Base, he said. The former base, which is now home to the Pease International Tradeport, is a Superfund cleanup site.
"Our primary goal is the protection of drinking water, that's our first priority," TerMaath said. "That's where all of our energy and money is going."
The treatment plant is unique because not only does it use granulated activated carbon to remove PFAS chemicals from water, it also uses resins.
"The resin does the heavy lifting, the carbon does the follow up," Val de la Fuent, chief of the BRAC Program Execution Branch of the U.S. Air Force, said Friday.
Thousands of people working at the tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day-care centers there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned Haven well. The city of Portsmouth shut down the well in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, in the well. Officials believe the PFAS came from firefighting foam used at the former Air Force base.
The EPA in May 2016 set permanent health advisories for PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA at 70 parts per trillion. It has not set any other health advisories for the thousands of other PFAS chemicals.
Shaheen and fellow U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan recently stated "PFAS chemicals have been associated with birth defects, various forms of cancers and immune system dysfunction." A toxicological study conducted by the Agency For Toxic Substances And Disease Registry recently determined PFAS chemicals can be dangerous to humans at much lower levels than the EPA has acknowledged.
The good news from Friday's tour is that the new treatment plant is reducing the PFAS levels from the water coming into the plant to "non-detect" levels, according to Rob Singer, the contractor and construction and operations head for the Air Force at the new plant.
But TerMaath acknowledged it will likely take at least five to 10 years before PFAS levels in the groundwater at the highly contaminated site begin to drop. Singer said water coming into the plant tests on average at 50,000 ppt for PFOS and PFOA.
"This plant when we opened it up, we tested what's coming into the plant, and what's going out of the plant every two days and we did that for four weeks," Singer said.
Water coming out of the pump-and-treat system that's being injected back into the ground is "still non-detect," Singer said.
Shaheen noted the community benefits from having "one of the first treatment facilities in the country to address this problem."
"We've got some history that has allowed us to hopefully get ahead and deal with the problem early," Shaheen said, adding that will allow Pease "to serve as a model for the rest of the country."
Shaheen called the work to address the contamination at Pease "a real cooperative effort between the Air Force, the Department of Environmental Services here in New Hampshire, the EPA Region 1, and of course the city of Portsmouth and the town of Newington."
She noted that PFAS "are at almost every military site in the country sadly."
Shaheen included an amendment in the 2018 Defense Authorization Act, which created the first-ever national study on the impacts of PFAS exposure in drinking water. She later secured a total of $20 million to pay for the study.
Shaheen announced in May with the ATSDR that Pease will serve as the model site for the national health study.
"Hopefully, we're well on the way to getting that study done," Shaheen said Friday. "There's been some challenges with getting money transferred but we think we're over that hurdle and that's moving forward."