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Portsmouth Drinking Water Well Back In Service After PFAS Contamination

Brian Goetz
N.H. residents protested PFAS contamination at this 2019 demonstration.

A well at the Pease Tradeport in Portsmouth returned to service for the first time since 2014 after a first-in-the-state project to treat the water for toxic PFAS chemicals.

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The Haven well, which supplies drinking water for the Tradeport and part of the town of Newington, was shut down after firefighting foam used on the former Pease Air Force Base contaminated the water.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals found in a variety of consumer products. The chemicals can have adverse health effects for exposed people, including elevated cholesterol levels, cancer, and effects on the immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There has been widespread exposure to PFAS chemicals for people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The project to treat the well for PFAS contamination was unprecedented in New Hampshire, said Brian Goetz, Portsmouth’s deputy director of public works. The incident was one of the highest-profile contamination incidents in the country, Goetz said.

The City of Portsmouth worked alongside the EPA, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the Air Force Civil Engineering Center and the Pease Development Authority to introduce a treatment system that includes resin filters and activated carbon filters to treat PFAS, along with other contaminants.

The first results from weekly tests of the well water after it was taken online in early August show undetectable levels of PFAS, Goetz said.

Andrea Amico, co-founder of the community action group Testing for Pease, experienced the impacts of PFAS when her children and her husband were exposed at Pease before the well was shut down. She said that she was grateful for the resources that were put into treating the water, but she still feels wary.

"Are there other contaminants, like PFAS, that we don’t know about yet?” Amico said.

The Haven well was a longstanding source of water for the Tradeport before it shut down, and it is one of the largest wells on the Seacoast.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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