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New defense policy bill sets aside $10M for military base groundwater study

U.S. Air Force and New Jersey state fire protection specialists from the New Jersey Air National Guard's 177th Fighter Wing battle a simulated aircraft fire with aqueous film forming foam at Military Sealift Command Training Center East in Freehold, N.J. on June 12, 2015.

AMBER POWELL/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By JEFF MCMENEMY | The Portsmouth Herald | Published: August 13, 2018

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — President Donald Trump on Monday signed the Defense Authorization Act for 2019, which includes $10 million for the first-ever study on the health effects faced by people exposed to toxic chemicals used on military bases known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The annual legislation authorizes national defense objectives for the upcoming fiscal year.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's amendments to the act during the past two years have ensured that a total of $17 million will go to pay for the first two years of the first ever national PFAS health study.

"It means we have a second year of the study funded or at least authorized, we still have to have the money in the Appropriations bill as well," Shaheen said during a stop Monday morning at the site of Revision Military's new facility at the Pease International Tradeport. "I think that's good news too."

Shaheen serves on the Armed Services Committee, which deals with defense-related issues.

Shaheen in March procured the first round of funding for the health study after an amendment she included in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law in 2017.

That amendment directs the Department of Defense to pay for the health study, which will be conducted by the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Thousands of people working at the Pease International 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 up until its closure in 2014.

Investigators believe the well was contaminated by PFAS used in firefighting foam at the former Pease Air Force Base.

The city of Portsmouth closed the polluted well at the former Air Force base in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, in the well. The EPA in May 2016 set permanent health advisories for PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA at 70 parts per trillion.

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, the ATSDR has stated PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body's hormones.

The ATSDR earlier this year announced that the Pease community will be included in the national PFAS health study, as well as a separate pilot study after Shaheen and the rest of the state's congressional delegation pushed to have the region included in the study.

Portsmouth mother Andrea Amico, who co-founded the Testing for Pease community group and website, said getting the additional $10 million for the health study is "really excellent news" and added it will earmark "much needed resources for the health study to provide answers to families who have been exposed to PFAS."

"This will help not only the Pease community, but also the entire nation," Amico said Monday.

The ATSDR has most recently said the health study will begin in August 2019.

"Everybody would like it to start sooner but at least we're going to get the study started so we can start recruiting people to participate," Amico said.

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©2018 Portsmouth Herald, N.H.
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