PORTSMOUTH, NH City firefighter and union president Russ Osgood pushed for the Fire Commission to “develop a clear plan to notify and test employees, both past and present,” who have been exposed to contaminated water at the Pease International Tradeport.
Osgood, both in a letter to the Fire Commission and in comments made at their Tuesday night meeting, referenced the cancer cases that have haunted the department.
“We know there’s been many cancer-related cases that have plagued our members in recent years. We hope that this exposure is not related,” Osgood said in his letter to the commission. “However there is no empirical data that shows this family of chemicals is not responsible.”
Station 3 is located at the tradeport and has been open there since 1993, Osgood said.
City officials closed down the city-owned Haven well last May after the Air Force tested the well and found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) that were 10 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s Provisional Health Advisory.
The EPA has classified PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) as “contaminants of emerging concern,” because of their potential harm to people.
PFOS are a class of chemicals known as PFCs, or perfluorochemicals, according to state and federal officials, who say they believe the contaminants got into the well from firefighting foam that was used on the main runway.
Osgood noted in response to questions from the commission that several studies have been done and the data so far is showing there are “adverse health effects to people who were exposed,” to PFCs.
“Our concern is that this things got a half life of between five and nine years and … you’re looking at 18 years of something in your system that shouldn’t be there,” Osgood said.
He also reported that he called the state’s phone number for people who were exposed to the contaminated water to sign up for blood testing himself.
A state official then called Osgood back and talked to him about “group testing” all of the city’s firefighters who want to be tested, he said.
“There’s apparently other groups on Pease interested in doing the same thing,” Osgood said.
Anyone exposed to the contaminated water at the tradeport can call 271-9461 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday to sign up for testing.
Osgood also noted firefighters working at Station 3 have been exposed to the PFCs in the water “in unknown quantities for an unknown period of time.”
Osgood asked the commission to set up a system to “report the exposures and monitor for any adverse health effects that are potentially caused by this toxin both now and in the future.”
“This is a very serious issue for all of the members of the department,” Osgood said and noted that
Data from a West Virginia study showed exposure to PFCs can cause “increased liver damage, increased kidney damage (and) testicular cancer,” Osgood said.
Fire Chief Steven Achilles told commissioners that he is working with the union and other city officials to develop a plan to address the issue.
He stressed that the “health and safety of our personnel is paramount.”
He noted that all of the city’s firefighters rotate through Station 3 and even though the state now acknowledges it’s an issue, the big question is “how long was this an issue, and how many people were potentially exposed.”
“Our staff lives there, showers there, drinks there, eats there repeatedly,” Achilles said.
As soon as they get more information from the city and state officials, Achilles will return to the commission with a plan to deal with the issue, which includes testing for current and former firefighters, he said.
“We need to ensure from the city standpoint that we protect the health and well-being of our employees,” Achilles said.
Fire Commissioner Jennifer Mosher-Matthes called the situation “very concerning” and commissioners pledged to work with and advocate for the firefighters.