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Pease to lead off first nationwide PFAS health study

PORTSMOUTH - The Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will announce Thursday night that it will be doing a health study on adults and children exposed to dangerous PFAS chemicals at the former Pease Air Force Base here.

The study will be part of the first-ever larger multi-site study on PFAS exposure that was established by legislation authored by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

The announcement will come from ATSDR officials at Thursday night’s meeting of the Pease Community Assistance Panel (CAP), which is scheduled to be held at the former Pease Air Force Base where the exposure took place.

ATSDR chose the Pease community to be the model for other military installations across the country because of all the work that’s already been done by community members, state and federal regulators and the state congressional delegation to address the threat the chemicals, which are suspected carcinogens, pose.

“Seacoast families deserve answers about the health impacts of PFAS chemicals and I’m happy to report that Pease will be a centerpiece of the first nationwide PFAS study, getting us one step closer to that goal,” said Shaheen. “These families have waited far too long for peace of mind and should be able to trust their drinking water. This important development is a testament to the outstanding work that has been done locally to document exposure- information that will be invaluable to this study and guide communities across the country on best practices.”

The news comes almost four months to the day after the director of the ATSDR told CAP members at a meeting earlier this year that he did not know if the Pease community would be included in the study.

Shaheen and other members of the state’s congressional delegation immediately began lobbying Air Force and ATSDR officials to ensure that Pease would be included in any health study.

Thousands of people who work at the Pease International Tradeport - along with children and infants who attend two day cares - were exposed to the contaminants in the city-owned Haven well.

The city of Portsmouth closed the well 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.

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, some health studies have shown the toxic man-made chemicals could cause a variety of other harmful health effects.

Air Force officials believe the well was contaminated by PFAS from firefighting foam used the base, which is a Superfund cleanup site.

It is anticipated that the ATSDR will receive the $7 million for the health study next month and the health study itself could begin as soon as the summer of 2019.

CAP member Andrea Amico, a Portsmouth mother whose children and husband were exposed to PFCs at Pease International Tradeport, said Wednesday she is “beyond excited that Pease will be the first site studied in this multiple site study.”

Amico is “hopeful that the results of this study will contribute to the evolving and necessary science needed on PFAS contamination and help give parents like me more answers to our health-related questions and concerns.”

Because her children were exposed to high levels of PFAS at a very young age, Amico wants to know “what the health impacts are going to be over the course of their lifetimes.”

Amico, who co-founded the Testing for Pease community group and Facebook page, praised Shaheen for all of her leadership on the issue, saying “without her we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

“I 100 percent believe that,” Amico said Wednesday evening. “We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to Sen. Shaheen and her staff. She’s absolutely been critical in getting this legislation passed and getting the study funded.”

Alayna Davis of Dover, another co-founder of Testing for Pease, said she was “really excited” to hear the news and “know that Pease is going to be one of the first sites in the health study.”

“We’ve been working at this for many years now. We’ve been trying to advance the science on PFAS chemicals,” she said Wednesday evening. “It’s really exciting that the hard work has paid off.”

As a parent, what’s important to Davis is “to try to learn more about the health implications from being exposed to these chemicals.”

“What can be done just in general to be proactive. My child has been exposed so what can I do to try to protect him,” she said.

She called Shaheen’s efforts throughout the entire years-long process “really amazing.”

“Sen. Shaheen and her staff have really stepped up to get this done,” Davis said. “It just shows their commitment to the people of New Hampshire.”

She added that the health study “will impact so many communities, not just here but across the country.”

Shaheen in March procured the $7 million for the health study after an amendment she included in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law in 2017.

The Shaheen amendment directs the Department of Defense to pay for the health study, which will be conducted by the ATSDR.

Amico, who began advocating for blood tests for people exposed to the contaminated water in 2014, said her efforts represented something she “never did before.”

“I was never an activist or environmental leader. I was driven by a very personal concern and it started with advocating for my family, then advocating for my community, then advocating for the nation,” Amico said. “I still feel like I’m dreaming sometimes.”

Thursday’s CAP meeting will begin at 6 p.m. and will be held at 222 International Drive in Portsmouth.