Why was the Haven well shut down?
The three wells on Pease that supply drinking water were first tested for PFCs in April 2014. The Haven well was shut down in May 2014 after high levels of PFCs were found in the drinking water. PFOS levels in the Haven well tested at 2500 parts per trillion (ppt) or 12.5 times over the EPA’s provisional health advisory (PHA) of 200 ppt. PFOA levels tested at 350 ppt or just under the EPA PHA of 400 ppt. Another PFC known as PFHxS tested at 960 ppt, but there is currently no EPA PHA for PFHxS.
Read the intitial PFC water data from April & May 2014 (PDF)
Are the other wells on Pease contaminated?
The other two drinking wells on Pease (Smith well & Harrison well) also tested positive for PFCs, but at levels below the EPA’s PHA. The Smith & Harrison wells continue to test positive for low levels of PFCs, but remain open and provide drinking water to the Pease community because the PFOS and PFOA levels are below the EPA PHA.
See the ongoing PFC monthly water data
How did the Pease drinking water become contaminated?
The Pease wells are believed to be contaminated by a firefighting foam known as AFFF (aqueous film forming foam) used by the US Air Force since the 1970's. AFFF is laced with PFCs and has been used to put out petroleum based fires on Pease and in fire training exercises. The Air Force has stated at community meetings that they continue to use AFFF to this day as it is the only firefighting foam that meets their specifications.
Learn more here about AFFF (PDF)
How long has the water on Pease been contaminated?
No one knows for sure. The AFFF responsible for the contamination has been used since the 1970's, but the first time the drinking wells had been tested for PFCs was in April 2014. PFCs are unregulated man-made chemicals that break down very slowly in the environment and are often characterized as persistent. The Haven well was shut down immediately when the levels of PFOS were identified at 12.5 times higher than the EPA’s PHA in April 2014. The other two drinking wells on Pease remain open and operational today supplying drinking water to Pease with low levels of PFCs in them below the EPA PHA.
What are PFCs?
PFCs are a large group of manufactured compounds that are widely used to make everyday products more resistant to stains, grease, and water. For example, PFCs may be used to keep food from sticking to cookware, to make sofas & carpets resistant to stains, to make clothes & mattresses more waterproof, and may also be used in some food packaging, as well as in some firefighting materials. Because they help reduce friction, they are also used in a variety of other industries, including aerospace, automotive, building & construction, and electronics. PFCs break down very slowly in the environment and are often characterized as persistent. There is widespread wildlife and human exposure to several PFCs, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Both PFOA and PFOS are byproducts of other commercial products, meaning they are released into the environment when other products are made, used, or discarded.
Learn more at the NIH (PDF)
Why should I be concerned that I drank water with high levels of PFCs?Learn more from the EPA Long-Chain Perfluorinated Chemicals (LCPFCs) Action Plan (PDF)
PFCs are known to have long half-lives in the human body and are very stable in the environment, resisting degradation. The half-life is the amount of time it takes to eliminate one half of a quantity of a chemical from the body. PFCs bioaccumulate in humans, remaining in the blood for years after exposure (even with no additional exposure). The half-lives of three of the PFCs found in the wells at Pease have a range of 3.8 to 8.5 years. According to the EPA’s Long-Chain Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) Action Plan in 2009, “Given the long half-life of these chemicals in humans (years), it can reasonably be anticipated that continued exposure could increase body burdens to levels that would result in adverse outcomes.”
Are there health effects associated with PFC exposure?"Scientists are not sure about the possible health effects of human exposure to PFCs. PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFNA have been more widely studied than other PFCs. For the most part, studies have found that animals exposed to PFCs at high levels have shown changes in the function of the liver, thyroid, pancreas, and hormone levels. However, scientists are not sure how animal data applies to human exposure, because PFCs behave differently in humans than they do in animals and may be harmful in different ways.
According to ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry), a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
PFCs build up and remain in the human body and the amount reduces very slowly over time. So scientists and doctors are concerned about their effects on human health.
Studies in humans have shown that certain PFCs may be associated with:
- developmental delays in the fetus and child, including possible changes in growth, learning, and behavior.
- decreased fertility and changes to the body’s natural hormones,
- increased cholesterol,
- changes to the immune system,
- increased uric acid levels
- changes in liver enzymes
- prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer
More research is needed to confirm or rule out possible links between health outcomes and exposure to PFCs and to quantify the associated dose-response relationships. Overall, the scientific evidence linking PFC exposures with specific health effects in people is mixed and inconclusive."
Can I get my blood tested for PFCs?
The state of NH Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS) held two rounds of blood testing for the Pease community in 2015. Multiple attempts were made to notify the community of the blood testing program through newspaper, social media, radio, television, press releases, and letters to businesses on Pease. The state sponsored blood testing is now closed and there are currently no plans to re-open the testing at this time.
However, the state has put in place a way for the community to coordinate blood testing for PFCs through their primary care doctor.
Are the wells at Pease being treated for PFCs?
Yes, but not yet! The Air Force agreed to treat all 3 wells in September 2015. The city of Portsmouth released a press release in November 2015 stating: “We are pleased that the Air Force has accepted the City’s offer to let the City take the lead in designing and constructing a PFC removal treatment system for all three wells impacted by the PFC contamination, and is providing the funding to make that possible".
The city released a press release on April 8, 2016 stating they signed an agreement with the Air Force to proceed with the Pease well treatment project and anticipate filters will be in place and operational for the Smith and Harrison wells within 6 months.
Read the April 8th press release (PDF)
What can I do to reduce PFCs in my water while awaiting the long term treatment plan at Pease?
A daycare on Pease conducted water sampling for PFCs with and without Brita faucet filters. The results showed that the water directly from the tap at the Pease daycare had low levels of PFCs (as expected with the Smith & Harrison wells open and operational with low level contaminants in them). The water samples from the Pease daycare after the Brita over the faucet filters were installed showed the low level PFCs at non- detect. At the community's request, NH DES released a memo last year to Pease tenants stating:
"NH DES believes that ultimately, the occurrence of the PFCs in drinking water will best be managed by the water treatment plant the City and Air Force are designing to specifically remove the PFCs. The treatment system will be rigorously tested and maintained to ensure that PFCs are consistently removed from the water. In the meantime and while more investigation of health risks associated with PFCs occurs, use of over the counter filters in accordance with manufacturer's instructions, may lower these levels to non-detect as was the case at the daycare described above."
You can also read this document from the Minnesota Department of Health on Home Water Treatment Units: Point-of-Use Devices
PFCs are in many everyday products. How can I reduce my exposure to PFCs in general?
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), here are some tips to avoid or reduce your PFC exposure in common products:
- Forgo the optional stain treatment on new carpets and furniture. Find products that haven’t been pre-treated, and if the couch you own is treated, get a cover for it.
- Choose clothing that doesn’t carry Teflon® or Scotchgard™ tags. This includes fabric labeled stain- or water-repellent. When possible, opt for untreated cotton and wool.
- Avoid non-stick pans and kitchen utensils. Opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead.
- Cut back on greasy packaged and fast foods. These foods often come in treated wrappers. Use real plates instead of paper.
- Pop popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stovetop. Microwaveable popcorn bags are often coated with PFCs on the inside.
- Choose personal care products without “PTFE” or “perfluoro” in the ingredients. Use EWG’s Skin Deep at cosmeticsdatabase.com to find safer choices.
EWG's PFC Guide (PDF)
What can I do to protect my health now that I have high levels of PFCs in my blood?
The NH DHHS does not currently make any specific health recommendations in the setting of PFC exposure. In the NH DHHS FAQ document (PDF), it states:
"There are no specific tests that are medically necessary. Any decisions on further testing or follow-up evaluation should be made with your healthcare provider. DHHS has provided education and recommendations to healthcare providers in New Hampshire so they can have an informed discussion with patients about the significance of finding PFCs in a person’s blood. DHHS is recommending that all healthcare providers follow their patients and perform any routine diagnostic or screening tests as medically indicated, based on their history, physical examination, and assessment, and not based on PFC levels." (page 15 of 17)
NH DHHS Health Alert on 8/17/2015 (PDF) states:
"There is no guidance about any specific medical testing or screening that should be performed as a result of PFC exposure. Healthcare providers should continue to perform routine diagnostic or screening tests as medically indicated based on a thorough history and physical examination, and not based on PFC blood levels."
The Vermont Department of Health has a different message for the healthcare community facing PFOA exposure in their drinking water. In a Health Advisory on 3/3/16 (PDF), Vermont Department of Health writes:
"PFOA levels in serum are related to increased serum lipid levels, increased uric acid levels, and liver enzymes. These changes may or may not be biologically relevant. Providers may want to consider a liver panel, lipid panel and a uric acid analysis for patients who have drinking water contaminated with PFOA."
Testing for Pease continues to advocate to New Hampshire government officials that more specific health recommendations be made to the community and healthcare providers to be more proactive and protective of public health in the setting of PFC water contamination (as seen in other states facing similar contamination). Read our letter to New Hampshire government officials sent on April 12, 2016.
What is the community doing now to address the Pease contamination?
Pease community members have joined a CAP (community assistance panel) with the federal health agency ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry) to work on identifying the community's questions. CAP members will work with ATSDR to gather and review community health concerns, provide information on how people might have been exposed to hazardous substances, and inform ATSDR how to involve the community. CAP meetings will be 3 times a year on Pease and are open to the public. It is through the CAP, that the community can express their questions, concerns, and input on what the next steps are for addressing the possible health related concerns due to PFC exposure on Pease. Updates, times, and locations on CAP meetings with be posted on ATSDR’s Pease CAP website and the Testing for Pease website.
The Air Force has recruited community members for a RAB (restoration advisory board). A RAB is a forum that provides the community with the opportunity to become involved in the environmental restoration process at Department of Defense installations either as a RAB member or through attendance at RAB meetings. The RAB provides opportunities for community members to share their questions, concerns, and ideas with agencies involved in the cleanup and influence decisions through discussion with decision makers. The RAB meetings are also held on Pease in the evenings. Updates, times, and locations on RAB meetings with be posted on the Testing for Pease website.