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Sen. Shaheen: $15 million more going to PFAS health study

PORTSMOUTH — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen reported she successfully added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes $15 million for the first national PFAS health study.

The amendment for fiscal year 2021 secures $5 million more in funding for the PFAS study than was included when the annual legislation passed the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. Shaheen, D-N.H., is a member of the Armed Services Committee.

The added money will ensure the study into the health effects of the dangerous and persistent chemicals continues, according to the senator.

“This PFAS health impact study is the first of its kind to help deliver long overdue answers to affected communities” Shaheen said this week in a prepared statement. “I fought to establish this study after hearing from Granite Staters who were concerned what prolonged exposure to these contaminants would mean for the health and safety of their children and their families.”

The NDAA is being debated on the Senate floor this week.

The former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth and Newington is one of more than 600 military installations in the United States contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as forever chemicals.

Thousands of people working at 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 until its closure in 2014. The Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued a report in 2019 stating people at the former air base were exposed to PFAS from 1993 to 2014.

That exposure, ATSDR stated, “could have increased the risk for harmful health effects to Pease International Tradeport workers and children attending the child-care centers.”

The source of PFAS in the Pease water system is assumed to be from aqueous film-forming foam used at the base, ATSDR states in the report. The city closed the well in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS.

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.

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

Previous legislation from Shaheen established the national study on the health effects of PFAS exposure in drinking water. Shaheen and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., also fought successfully to have the Pease community serve as the model site for the national PFAS health study.

Shaheen successfully included a provision in the FY20 NDAA that will phase out the use of PFAS in Department of Defense firefighting foams and prohibit its use in the military after Oct. 1, 2024.

Testing For Pease co-founder Andrea Amico called the announcement that Shaheen secured $15 million for the health study “great news.”

“This is much needed money that we need to push our study along and the multi-state study,” Amico said Wednesday.

Pease is conducting its own pilot PFAS study, which will be used as part of the national PFAS study.

“Because of COVID things have been delayed and it will cost more money to make sure the study can be completed,” Amico said.

Testing For Pease is a Seacoast community group which advocates for people who were exposed to PFAS in the drinking water at Pease.

Amico said she is “incredibly grateful for Sen. Shaheen’s leadership on the issue.”

“There’s a lot of really important information that’s going to come from this work,” she said.

The Pease pilot study has been paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is not yet a restart date for the project, Amico said.

“We need to have some answers from ATSDR in terms of when it’s going to reopen,” Amico said.

She believes the Pease study can be safely restarted using the same precautions that doctor’s and dentist’s offices are on the Seacoast.