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‘We need to learn’: Adults, kids wanted for Pease PFAS Health Study

PORTSMOUTH - U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, along with community activist Andrea Amico, urged people to sign up to participate in the restarted Pease PFAS Health Study.

The first-in-the-nation study on adults and children exposed to dangerous PFAS chemicals in drinking water officially restarted Thursday, after being paused in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amico, co-founder of Testing For Pease who has been nationally recognized for her work on the issue, stressed the importance of getting more adults and children involved in the study.

"It's so important for people to participate, both adults and children, because we need to learn from this exposure," Amico said Thursday outside the Pease Health Study office. "The science continues to evolve on PFAS, and we need to have a better understanding of what health effects people may be experiencing as a result of their exposure, and we're not going to know that if we don’t get more people to participate in the 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, damage the immune system and interfere with the human hormones, according to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is conducting the health study.

Amico’s 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, talked about how she felt about the kid’s portion of the health study.

"It looks like a doctor’s office inside, I got the butterflies when I walked in but all the staff is really nice," she said about the health study office. "I think if any kids are nervous, they shouldn’t be. The only like painful part, which isn’t that bad, is the blood draw."

Andrea’s son, Vinnie, already participated in the study.

Amico described the experience as "a really seamless process."

"What I like about this process is it’s not like a drop-in or walk-in," Amico said. "You call and make an appointment ahead of time. Even before COVID, when Vinnie and I came in, it was just him and in the office."

People interested in participating in the study or having their children participate should call (603) 846-6192.

Amico said during Vinnie’s appointment the staff were "really friendly, especially the phlebotomist."

"She has toys and different things to help distract the kids during the blood draw," Amico said.

The Pease Health Study was created through legislation passed by Sen. Shaheen, and she has secured $30 million in funding for the study. Shaheen called Amico "the driving force behind the effort to test folks at Pease and to ensure this health study gets reopened."

She credited Amico "and the other Pease moms" for their advocacy "that has really called attention" to PFAS contamination.

"We’re here today to celebrate the restart of recruiting people to participate in the study the ATSDR is doing to ensure that we can find out finally with data and information what the impact is of PFAS on people," Shaheen said Thursday.

She said the study is "particularly important right now because" people’s exposure to PFAS could make it harder for them to deal with COVID-19.

"Anything that weakens the immune system has the potential to impact their ability to deal with COVID," Shaheen said.

Shaheen encouraged people to participate in the health study. "Because that way we’ll be able to obtain the information we need to deal with this," she said.

Amico credited Shaheen for her work on the issue.

"We brought the grassroots effort and we’ve brought the community voice and the need, but if it wasn’t for her taking the lead in putting legislation in place to get us the funding, we wouldn’t be here today," Amico said.

Dr. Christopher Reh, associate director of the ATSDR, stated for the agency "to best understand the risks associated with PFAS exposure and to be able to define that, we really need to hit the numbers that are in the study design."

"We’re excited to reopen, and if you feel like you fit the criteria for an exposure ... please give us a call and let us know, because right now we’re about 30% of the way finished so we’ve got a long way to go," he said.

ATSDR is following all CDC guidelines for people who visit the Pease Health Study office to participate in the study, Reh said.

"Everybody will be wearing a mask, people will be wearing gloves, they’ll be social distancing where possible and taking temperature of course," he said.