PORTSMOUTH — A clean-water advocate who is running for Executive Council says the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act does not go far enough to protect the thousands of Seacoast residents who have been exposed to PFAS contamination.
Mindi Messmer of Rye said an additional $10 million has been secured for a national health study to determine the effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances on humans, and that a portion of that money will go to continuing a pilot study within the Pease community in Portsmouth.
However, she said, a designation of PFAS as hazardous under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or Superfund law, is needed to move remediation efforts forward at federal sites.
Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth and the Coakley Landfill in North Hampton were contaminated by firefighting foam used by the military. Both are Superfund sites.
“The CERCLA listed designation under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act would have provided us another tool in our tool kit to say, ‘This is a hazardous substance and you do need to act appropriately to comply with the state regulations,’” Messmer said on Friday morning.
Messmer said the Department of Defense uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s PFAS standards of 70 parts per trillion instead of the state’s current standards for PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFNA, which are between 11 and 18 parts per trillion.
Those state standards are being challenged in court and may be relaxed on Dec. 31 under a Merrimack County Superior Court ruling by Judge Richard McNamara.
Because the DoD uses EPA standards, residents who have contamination in their water above the current state standards but below the federal standards are getting no relief, Messmer said.
Messmer said the National Defense Authorization Act also left out treatment standards for surface water.
“That’s very concerning because drinking water in most cases in New Hampshire is connected somewhat to surface water. Our rivers and streams are being polluted with PFAS and it would have helped to have some sort of national, federal level, protection on that,” Messmer said.
Messmer said runoff from Pease Air Force Base’s fire-training area has affected residents in the community of Newington.
Ted Connors, chairman of the board of selectmen in Newington, has been working hard to give residents in his town a voice, but he says they get a lot of “lip service” from the DoD.
Connors says because the Air Force contaminated the groundwater that seeped into some of the 40 private wells in town, the department should take responsibility and offer residents remediation equipment or provide bottled water.
Connors says people are nervous in Newington because nobody knows how PFAS affects the health of humans. Residents there are not included in the Pease pilot study.
“It’s an unknown. Long-range, nobody knows what the real effect is,” Connors said.
Messmer says PFAS chemicals have been proven to have detrimental effects on unborn children and babies.
“There’s clear evidence that shows that those chemicals are delivered at pretty high concentrations to babies,” Messmer said.
In making the announcement about the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., acknowledged that there is still work to be done.
“Our work must not end here — remediating polluted sites, investing in research and development to find alternatives to PFAS and understanding the full health implications related to PFAS exposure must remain top congressional priorities,” Shaheen said in a statement.