PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE — The U.S. Air Force has diverted more than $66 million from other environmental cleanup efforts to address contamination by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, and more than $35 million of that funding has been dedicated to mitigation efforts at the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth.
Earlier this month, an official at the Pentagon released a list of installations where the Department of Defense has diverted, or plans to divert, funds from non-PFAS cleanup sites to pay for groundwater and drinking water treatments for communities around Pease, March Air Reserve Base in California and Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan.
The diverted funds will also go to pay for PFAS testing at 16 former Air Force installations.
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord sent the list in a June 5 letter to U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He was among four Democratic senators who had requested the information in March.
Carper released the letter publicly.
“DoD takes its cleanup responsibility seriously and undertakes these actions in an open and transparent manner. Our priority is to quickly address the presence of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water that resulted from DoD activities,” Lord wrote in the letter.
PFOS and PFOA are components of legacy Aqueous Film Forming Foam the Air Force began using in the 1970s as a firefighting agent to extinguish petroleum fires, according to officials at the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center.
Of the money for Pease, $7,822,247 will go to the former fire training area ground water treatment plant. It protects private residences’ drinking water supplies in Newington, north of the former training area.
A total of $12,654,865 is designated for the Airfield Interim Mitigation System, constructed to prevent further contamination of the city of Portsmouth’s drinking water supply wells which serve Pease International Tradeport.
A sum of $14,716,196 is earmarked for a cooperative agreement to add ion exchange (IX) resins and granular activated carbon (GAC) to the Portsmouth-owned Grafton Road drinking water plant. GAC is to be operational for Smith and Harrison wells by December 2019; IX operational for Haven, Smith and Harrison wells by December 2020.
According to the list Lord sent to Carper, a total of 26 clean-up projects lost funding because of the $66,604,206 diversion.
According to the list, more than $37 million was diverted from a landfill cap repair, soil investigation and remediation project at former Galena Air Force Station in Alaska; $8.6 million was diverted from radiological cleanup at the former McClellan Air Force Base in California; and millions of dollars of funding was taken from munitions response investigations at five other Air Force installations.
On June 13, Carper reiterated his call for Congress to pass legislation that addresses PFAS contamination.
“There are a number of ways that Congress must begin tackling this multi-faceted problem,” Carper said in a statement. “For starters, Congress should declare PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. That would greatly reduce the slow bureaucracy that so often prolongs the process for cleaning up contaminated sites, which just creates more anxiety for communities concerned about known or potential contamination.”
Carper said Congress also needs to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources it needs to address the perhaps billions of dollars in liabilities related to PFAS contamination caused by the military.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is a member of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committee. Confronting PFAS contamination in water supplies has been one of her top concerns.
Last summer, Shaheen visited a new treatment plant that uses resin to remove PFOS and PFOA from groundwater at Pease. The technology stops the migration of the chemicals toward the Haven Well and drinking water wells in Newington.
On Friday, Shaheen sent a statement to the New Hampshire Union Leader with her reaction to the diversion of funds.
“The Department of Defense should have the funding it needs to maintain our military readiness and keep our service members safe — it should never be in a position where it needs to sacrifice one priority to support another,” Shaheen said.
“Combating PFAS exposure — which includes boosting funds to remediate contaminated sites — must be a congressional priority, and if our military needs more funding to see that through, Congress needs to respond,” Shaheen said.
Lord said in her letter to Carper that the Department of Defense will continue programming for future PFOS/PFOA related requirements during upcoming budget cycles.
Pease Air Force Base was designated a Superfund site in 1990 and was closed in 1991. Today, the New Hampshire Air National Guard still uses a portion of the former base and there is a bustling business park on land the military once used.