PORTSMOUTH — U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to “take immediate action to protect citizens from” further PFAS contamination.
Shaheen and Hassan released a letter on Friday they wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in the wake of this week’s first-ever PFAS contamination community engagement event, which the EPA held in Exeter.
“We are hopeful that the EPA will take the concerns and recommendations that were raised by community leaders, as well as state and local officials, to help inform future meaningful federal action on these chemicals,” Shaheen and Hassan wrote in the letter to Pruitt. “This includes advancing conversations and solutions that consider the entire class of PFAS chemicals.”
The senators added “PFAS contamination in drinking water is an issue not only in our home state of New Hampshire, but across the country. ... It is critical for the EPA to take immediate action to protect citizens from further contamination and ensure that responsible parties are held liable for addressing any resulting health and safety concerns.”
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. Officials believe the PFAS came from firefighting foam used at the former Pease Air Force Base, which is a Superfund cleanup site.
PFAS are man-made chemicals used in a wide variety of products and are very persistent in the environment and in human bodies.
Portsmouth shut down the polluted 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 at 70 parts per trillion. It has not set any other health advisories for the thousands of other PFAS chemicals, which advocates suspect are no less dangerous than PFOS and PFOA.
In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body’s hormones.
Hassan and Shaheen also pointed to EPA’s intention to have PFOA and PFOS designated as hazardous substances “through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including potentially Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Section 102.” “By doing so, PFAS will be covered under the EPA’s CERCLA, and therefore require responsible parties to be held accountable for any future release,” the senators said in the letter. “It is appropriate that the EPA evaluates the necessary steps for such a designation, which has support throughout communities affected by PFAS contamination, and we respectfully request additional information about the steps and timeline the EPA is taking to consider this proposal.”
Portsmouth resident and Testing for Pease co-founder Andrea Amico appeared at this week’s conference to represent advocates from across New England. She called for the EPA to set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 1 ppt for all PFAS contaminants. On Friday, she thanked Hassan and Shaheen for writing the letter and said the community is “very appreciative that they’re always being extremely proactive and advocating for the community.”
“I loved that they asked the EPA to take the recommendations of the community into consideration,” Amico said Friday. “We really worked hard to try to make those very clear and comprehensive. We wanted to be clear to the EPA what we needed.”
She praised the senators for urging the EPA to take action “sooner rather than later. That was a message sent loud and clear by multiple community members.”
She stressed it’s important, as the senators noted, that PFAS chemicals be treated as a class of chemicals not individual contaminants.
“At Pease we have had multiple PFAS detected in our water and the community remains concerned about all of the chemicals, not just PFOA and PFOS,” Amico said.
Shaheen included an amendment in the 2018 Defense Authorization Act, which created the first-ever national study on the impacts of PFAS exposure in drinking water. She later secured funding to pay for the health study and pushed along with Hassan to have the Pease community included in the study.
Shaheen announced in May with the ATSDR that Pease will serve as the model site for the national health study.
Hassan also co-sponsored Shaheen’s Safe Drinking Water Assistance Act, which creates an interagency task force to improve federal coordination on emerging contaminants and directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a federal research strategy to improve identification, analysis and treatment methods for contaminants.