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Pease Health Study on PFAS in water set to resume

PORTSMOUTH - The first in the nation federal health study on adults and children exposed to dangerous PFAS chemicals is slated to restart Thursday, Oct. 15.

Andrea Amico, co-founder of community advocacy group Testing For Pease, said "we were informed by ATSDR (the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) that the Pease Health Study has been approved to reopen" pending final approval from an internal review board.

"I'm thrilled that this study is going to reopen and that members of our community can enroll," Amico said Thursday. "This study is critically important to answering the questions and concerns of the community that have been impacted by PFAS exposure."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ATSDR are conducting the PFAS health study.

Thousands of people working at Pease International Tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day cares there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned Haven well until its closure in 2014. The water was contaminated by firefighting foam used at the former Pease Air Force Base.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics. They also have a range of applications in the aerospace, aviation, automotive and electronics industries, among others.

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

The Pease Health Study, which was created through legislation passed by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, is seeking 1,000 adults who were exposed to the contaminated water and 350 kids ages 4 to 17.

"The call center will reopen and members of the community can call to start scheduling their appointments for the health study on Oct. 15," Amico said. "The community has been advocating the entire summer to get the study reopened and were waiting for government clearance to restart."

Beginning Oct. 15, people can call (603) 846-6192 if they're interested in participating in the study or if they want their kids to participate in the study.

"We have a significant amount of children who have been exposed to highly contaminated drinking water at Pease. We can’t undo the harm that’s been done, all we can try to do is learn from this unfortunate situation," Amico said. "Pease is the first community being studied but there are hundreds of other communities facing the same contamination across the country."

Shaheen on Thursday said it was encouraging to see plans to resume the study with safety precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This study is tremendously important for understanding the health risks of PFAS and to inform response efforts, and that’s why we’re all pulling together to get it finished," Shaheen said. "I encourage everyone who may qualify to participate in this study."

By volunteering for the study, or having their kids participate, Pease area residents can help "get answers about how PFAS exposure impacts our kids’ health into the future," Amico said.

When the health study was paused in March due to COVID-19, ATSDR had enrolled 345 adults and 71 kids.

Amico stressed people who participate in the study are given appointments to come to the Pease study office.

"This isn’t like a walk-in clinic. People aren’t going to walk into a waiting room with 15 people waiting," she said. "You’re put on a schedule so there’s limited people in the office, and that was true before the pandemic."

"It’s very planned ahead of time, which I hope will put people’s minds at ease," she added.

The ATSDR and CDC are implementing safety protocols "so all participants and staff will be safe," she said.