June 9, 2020 In the News

Sen. Shaheen pushes for PFAS testing for military members

By Jeff McMenemy
June 9, 2020

PORTSMOUTH — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen introduced legislation to provide for annual blood tests for service members and former service members, who served at military bases contaminated by dangerous PFAS chemicals.

The former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth and Newington is one of more than 600 military installations in the United States that have been contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The chemicals are more commonly known as forever chemicals.

Shaheen’s legislation, the PFAS Exposure Assessment and Documentation Act, would provide for current and former service members to get their blood tested for PFAS chemicals during their annual periodic health assessment (PHA).

The legislation would also allow for dependents of a service member who is or was stationed at an installation affected by PFAS contamination to get a PFAS blood test covered under TRICARE – the military health insurance plan.

PFAS chemicals, like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), have emerged as widespread contaminants in the drinking water sources of military bases across the country and are tied to serious illness and health effects.

“The well-being of our service members is paramount, and as they’re occupationally more likely to be exposed to these harmful chemicals, every effort should be made to track and safeguard their health,” Shaheen said Tuesday. “Providing service members with access to blood tests will also help inform policies to assist those who’ve been impacted by contamination. As the health effects of PFAS chemicals are studied, it’s critical that we do our due diligence to provide the information that service members and their families need to be fully informed about their exposure and health.

“Military families sacrifice a great deal for our country so we owe them the best care available and full scope of resources they need to understand and protect their health.”

Thousands of people working at Pease International Tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day-care centers there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned Haven well up until its closure in 2014.

The Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued a report in 2019 stating people at the former Air Force base were exposed to PFAS chemicals from 1993 to 2014.

That exposure, the ATSDR stated, “could have increased the risk for harmful health effects to Pease International Tradeport workers and children attending the child-care centers.”

The source of PFAS in the Pease water system is assumed to be from aqueous film-forming foam used at the former Air Force base, the ATSDR states in the report.

The city closed the polluted well in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, in the well.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics. They also have a range of applications in the aerospace, aviation, automotive and electronics industries.

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, ATSDR states PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body’s hormones.

Previous legislation from Shaheen established the first-ever national study on the health effects of PFAS exposure in drinking water. Shaheen and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., also fought successfully to have the Pease community serve as the model site for the national PFAS health study.