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Health study on PFC exposure moves forward

PORTSMOUTH -- The first national health study on the health effects on people exposed to PFCs in drinking water continues to move forward as a result of legislation from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

President Donald Trump signed the Defense Authorization Act into law, which includes an amendment for the health study from Shaheen, which gives the Department of Defense authority to fund the health study.

Thousands of adults who work at Pease International Tradeport, and children who attend two day-care facilities at Pease, were exposed to the PFCs at the former Air Force base. Shaheen introduced the amendment after the Air Force announced in May it would not fund a health study on PFC exposure at the tradeport.

“I’m glad that we can finally move forward with this study and help Seacoast families get the answers they deserve,” Shaheen said Tuesday. “It is completely unacceptable that parents in our community, and those in affected communities across the nation, have to worry about the safety of their children’s drinking water because of this contamination.”

The defense bill authorizes $7 million for the study, which still has to be appropriated. Shaheen serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The study will be conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The city of Portsmouth closed the Haven well at Pease in May 2014 after the Air Force found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, at levels 12.5 times higher than what was then the Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional health advisory. The EPA in May 2016 set new permanent health advisories for PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, at much lower levels. The provisional health advisory is an advisory for short-term exposure, while the permanent advisory is for lifetime exposure.

The ATSDR has said some studies have determined PFC exposure can increase a person’s likelihood to get cancer, harm the development of a fetus, cause problems with a child’s development, increase cholesterol levels and weaken the immune system.

Andrea Amico of Portsmouth called the announcement about the health study Tuesday “incredible news.” Amico, whose husband and two of her three children were exposed to the contaminated water, said she and others “just want to better understand the health impacts.”

“We want to contribute to the science on these chemicals. We see this as a really unfortunate situation (the exposure) but we can learn from it,” Amico said. “I want to know what is this going to mean for our health down the road. It’s not something I’m ever going to stop worrying about.”

She credited the state’s congressional delegation for making the health study a reality. “The community is very fortunate to have Sen. Shaheen and others who have worked so hard to make this possible.”

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said the nationwide study is an important step to ensure communities have information to protect public health. “I remain committed to working with the rest of the congressional delegation and concerned families along the Seacoast in addressing contaminated drinking water and resulting public health and environmental concerns,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, led efforts in the House to include the health study in the final defense bill. “Community members who live near contaminated sites deserve answers about how they and their children may be affected by PFCs, and guidance on what steps they can and should take to protect their health,” she said. “This study is a major step toward getting our community members the answers they deserve.”