NH Delegation Calls on DOD & VA to Investigate Cancer-Related Health Concerns of Service Members at Pease Air National Guard Base

November 30, 2018

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Congresswomen Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) and Annie Kuster (NH-02), calling on the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to investigate cancer-related health concerns of service members that have served at Pease Air National Guard Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This letter comes amid concerns from Granite Staters that cancers among the former Pease service members may be caused by service-connected chemical exposure to known carcinogens as well as the emerging contaminant, per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

The delegation wrote, “We write to bring your attention to a series of health concerns raised by Granite Staters regarding the incidences of cancer among members of the military who served at the former Pease Air Force Base and the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease Air National Guard Base.  We have heard from a number of military retirees and their families who believe that exposure to approximately a dozen known carcinogens as well as ground and drinking water contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have caused serious negative health impacts, including the development of a number of cancers ranging from prostate to bladder cancer.  These members of the community have called for the New Hampshire National Guard (NHNG) to conduct a study to determine the causes and contributing factors for these cancers.”

The 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease Air National Guard Base is scheduled to hold a “community listening session” in December for all current and former members of the NHNG, and their families. Officials have also announced that a contact database will be established to distribute updates through the New Hampshire State Office of Veterans Affairs. In their letter, the delegation requested the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) meet with the NHNG and participate in the listening session.

The delegation continued, “As you know, members of the military may be exposed to numerous chemicals and substances throughout their service and there is precedent within both the DOD and the VA for studying service-connected exposure to hazardous chemicals, substances and conditions.  Furthermore, military job functions associated with the aerial refueling mission are not unique to Pease.  There are 18 aerial refueling wings within the National Guard and similar job functions are performed by service members in other types of units both on active duty and in the reserve component around the world, making the DOD and VA more equipped to develop and conduct studies related to hazardous exposures and health outcomes.”

In closing, the delegation submitted a list of questions for the DOD and VA to respond to regarding hazardous chemicals and material exposure, studies on the correlation between cancers and military service, and more. The letter can be read in full here.

In October, Shaheen led a New Hampshire congressional delegation letter to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) calling on the federal agency to focus research efforts on the potential connection between PFAS exposure and pediatric cancer. Senator Shaheen has prioritized efforts in Congress to uncover the potential health effects of emerging contaminants in water supplies. In addition to establishing and funding the PFAS health-impact study for fiscal year (FY) 2018, Shaheen worked to include an additional $10 million for the second year of the health-impact study, which she authorized in the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act and appropriated in the defense funding legislation that was signed into law in September. Shaheen also worked to include specific language in the FY2019 defense bill that streamlines the process of transferring funds from DOD to ATSDR, to facilitate the funding process of the study going forward.

In August, Senators Shaheen and Hassan joined a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce legislation that would hold federal agencies accountable to address PFAS contamination at military bases around the country. This bipartisan bill continues Shaheen’s work on PFAS exposure research as it specifically relates to service members and veterans, who are in environments that have higher exposure to these chemicals. In April, Senator Shaheen worked with Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) to introduce the PFAS Registry Act, which Senator Hassan also cosponsored, to create a national database for service members and veterans experiencing health problems potentially due to PFAS exposure. The bill would allow military personnel and veterans to receive updates on recent scientific developments on the effects of PFAS exposure and information on what resources may be available to address their health concerns.