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Feds won't commit to Pease for national PFC study
Concerned mother calls lack of commitment 'completely unacceptable'
Portsmouth Herald - 1/12/2018
PORTSMOUTH - Members of the Pease Community Assistance Panel (CAP) blasted the head of a federal agency after he wouldn't commit to including Pease in the first-ever national health study on PFC exposure.
Patrick Breysse, the director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, told CAP members that he was "optimistic" that money would be approved for the study.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., included an amendment that was passed as part of the Defense Authorization Bill that authorized the Department of Defense to do the national study.
Breysse stated that the ATSDR would continue working toward doing a Pease-only health study for adults and children exposed to PFCs at the former Pease Air Force Base, but he repeatedly declined to say the Seacoast community would be part of what ATSDR is now calling a "multi-site study."
"(I'm) not in a position to commit tonight to who is going to be in this multi-state study," Breysse said during the meeting Thursday night at the Department of Environmental Services building at Pease.
When asked what that meant, he said, "You don't have a commitment from me tonight that you're going to be part of the study."
CAP member Andrea Amico, a Portsmouth mother whose children and husband were exposed to PFCs at the Pease International Tradeport, told Breysse, "I want you to understand that's completely unacceptable."
"Four years into our exposure to have you sit here tonight and not give us a commitment, it's incredibly frustrating," Amico said.
Breysse acknowledged that ATSDR was "further along with you than any other community in the country."
"All I'm saying is we just can't make any announcements," he said.
The city of Portsmouth closed its Haven well at Pease in May 2014 after the Air Force found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, at levels 12.5 times higher than what was then the Environmental Protection Agency's provisional health advisory.
The EPA in May 2016 set new permanent health advisories for PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, at much lower levels. The provisional health advisory is an advisory for short-term exposure, while the permanent advisory is for lifetime exposure.
Some health studies have suggested that PFC exposure can cause cancer, lower birth weights, harm a child's development and increase cholesterol.
More than 9,000 people were working at the Tradeport at the time the city closed the well, and the former Air Base is home to two day-care centers.
The Air Force believes the well was contaminated by PFCs used in firefighting foam.
Shaheen's amendment authorizes $7 million for the study, which still has to be appropriated.
If the money is approved, the ATSDR will conduct the study.
CAP member Michelle Dalton, who is a co-founder of the Testing for Pease advocacy group along with Amico and Alayna Davis, asked if ATSDR still planned to use Pease as a pilot to launch a national health study.
Breysse stated that ATSDR remained committed to doing a Pease-only health study.
She also questioned why the ATSDR was referring to the bigger study as a multi-site study instead of a national study.
"The whole country isn't going to participate," he said. "I don't want to create expectations that aren't going to be filled."
As he was pressed again on whether Pease was going to be involved in a national study, Breysse laughed and said, "Are you a lawyer?"
Amico then interrupted and said, "This is not funny to me, it's incredibly frustrating."
Davis then noted that the Pease community is "committed and we have been committed for a very long time."
"It would be extremely disappointing if that was a possibility," Davis said about Pease not being part of the multi-site study.
Earlier in the meeting, Bill Cibulas, the director of The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation at ATSDR, said the agency was continuing to work to turn a feasibility assessment they had completed into a protocol for a Pease health study on PFC exposure.
But he acknowledged the protocol would have to go through an external peer review, along with another review by the federal Office of Management and Budget.
That one could take six months on its own.
CAP member Stefany Shaheen, a former Portsmouth City Councilor, told Breysse that she "keeps wrestling with the appropriate role for us as community members."
"It doesn't feel like we're doing enough," Stefany Shaheen, the daughter of Jeanne Shaheen, said during Thursday's meeting.
She noted that the contaminated water at Pease was discovered in May 2014.
"We're almost four years in and here we sit," she said. "It's frustrating."
She stated that "our challenge (is) how can we help accelerate the process because it's going too slow, because we hear from people who are worried every single day."
"We're in this position where we're just waiting and reacting," she added.
Breysse suggested that if six months go by and the protocol is still at OMB, they could address it again then.
But Stefany Shaheen suggested they bring an OMB representative to their meetings to push things along faster.