NH DHHS - Unregulated Contaminant Found in Pease Tradeport Water System

Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services

(DHHS), Division of Public Health Services, and the New Hampshire

Department of Environmental Services (DES) are today announcing a positive

test result for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) from a well that

serves the Pease Tradeport and the New Hampshire Air National Guard base at

Pease. PFOS is one of a class of chemicals known as PFCs or

perfluorochemicals. Because the level of PFOS exceeds the “provisional

health advisory” set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the

well was immediately shut down by the City of Portsmouth.

The water in the other two wells servicing Pease also contained PFCs but

not above the provisional health advisory level. Out of an abundance of

caution, the water system for the City of Portsmouth was also recently

tested, since the systems at Pease and Portsmouth are linked, however,

water from the Pease wells is rarely used to service the city of

Portsmouth. The results were that no PFCs were detected in any of the other

supply wells or surface water sources that serve the Portsmouth water


“The City of Portsmouth takes water quality and safety seriously and is

working closely with the agencies to learn more about this unregulated

compound. In the meantime, the Haven Well will remain off line,” said

Brian Goetz, the City of Portsmouth Deputy Director of Public Works who is

overseeing this effort with water operations staff.

PFCs have been used for decades in many commercial products, such as

stain-resistant carpeting, fire-fighting foam, nonstick cookware, fabric

coatings, and some food packaging. As a result, they are found throughout

the environment. They do not break down readily in the environment or in

our bodies so low levels of PFCs can be detected in the blood stream of

most people.

“There is very little known about the health effects if any on people from

these compounds,” said Dr. José Montero, Director of Public Health at DHHS.

“Some animal studies have been conducted but have not led to any

recommendations for people, and further studies are needed.”

The water in the wells that serve Pease Tradeport is routinely tested

according to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements. PFCs are not

covered in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, although six of these

compounds are being evaluated by U.S EPA to see if a drinking water

standard is warranted, and EPA’s Office of Water established and released a

Provisional Health Advisory for PFOS. Provisional Health Advisories reflect

reasonable, health-based hazard concentrations above which action should be

taken to reduce exposure to unregulated contaminants in drinking water.

“DES is working closely with the City of Portsmouth to address the presence

of PFCs in the Pease Tradeport wells so that all health-based standards and

advisories are met for water being served to their customers,” said Sarah

Pillsbury, Administrator of New Hampshire’s Public Drinking Water Program

at DES.

The Pease Tradeport previously operated as an Air Force base from 1956 to

1991. It is suspected that firefighting foam used by the Air Force starting

around 1970 for plane crashes and training exercises contained PFCs that

leached into the ground and consequently contaminated the well. The Former

Pease Air Force Base is currently a Superfund site being cleaned up by the

U.S. Air Force with oversight by DES and EPA. Investigations into the

source(s) of this well contamination will be undertaken by the Air Force

and overseen by DES and EPA.

DES, in collaboration with DHHS, the Pease Development Authority, and the

City of Portsmouth will continue to monitor the wells at Pease to ensure

the water continues to meet all EPA and State standards. Any new findings

will be made available to the public.

An informational session for the public will be held next week. A date,

time and location are being finalized and will be announced. For more

information, visit http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/investigation-pease.htm. For

questions about the well water testing, people can call 603-271-9461. For

more information about the monitoring by DES, go to