October 15, 2020 In the News

Study resumes on the effects of PFAS on people exposed at Pease

Union Leader
By Kimberley Haas
October 15, 2020

A health study examining the effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances on people who were exposed to these forever chemicals in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas has resumed after a seven-month hiatus due to COVID-19.


Thousands of people who worked or attended school at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth from January of 2004 to May of 2014, or who lived in Newington and relied on a private well anytime from January of 2004 to the present are eligible for the study.


So far, only 30% of the adults and 13% of the children needed to complete the study have participated.


Christopher Reh, associate director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said on Thursday that anyone who feels as if they may have been exposed to PFAS should reach out to the Pease study call center.


Reh said that since PFAS can affect the immune system, they also plan to examine how that might change somebody’s outcome if they become sick with the coronavirus.


“COVID impacts the immune system. We know PFAS may impact the immune system. What’s the effect of them combined? We do not know yet. We’re in the process of thinking about studies that can help inform that,” Reh said.


Some studies have shown that PFAS exposure may increase the risk of cancer, increase cholesterol levels, interfere with the body’s natural hormones, lower a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant and affect the learning of children.


Andrea Amico, co-founder of Testing for Pease, was at the center Thursday with her 9-year-old daughter, Sophia.


Sophia Amico has participated in the study and said she has advice for other children who may be nervous about getting tested.


“I would say there is nothing to be worried about. I did kind of get a little bit scared and I had butterflies in my stomach coming here, but everybody is really nice here. I felt really safe because everybody was wearing masks and if they need to get up close, they put on a shield and gloves,” Sophia Amico said.


Andrea Amico described the process of being tested, which is done by appointment only.


Adult participants provide blood samples and later take a questionnaire over the phone. They get a $50 Market Basket gift card for their time.


Children have a second hour-and-a-half appointment where they do additional testing so their behavior can be studied.


“Which to the child looks like puzzles and games. It’s very fun, but the researchers are looking for mild changes in cognition, motor function, developmental changes and things like that,” Andrea Amico said.


Children receive a $25 gift card to Amazon or Target.


The tradeport formerly served as an Air Force base and it is believed chemicals used then leaked into the drinking water, which is how families such as the Amicos became exposed to PFAS years later.


It is estimated that PFAS has gotten into the drinking water of more than 600 military installations nationwide.


Community members at seven other sites are also being tested as part of the federal government’s health studies.


U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who spearheaded efforts to have the studies funded, was at the Portsmouth office with the Amicos on Thursday and encouraged everyone who may have been impacted by PFAS at Pease to participate in New Hampshire’s study.


“We know that the more people who sign up, the better the information will be,” Shaheen said.


People can call the study center at 603-846-6192 to be screened for eligibility.