NEWINGTON -- A small number of tests done on shellfish around Great Bay show what one scientist is describing as “alarmingly” high levels of PFAS contaminants.
The Air Force released the results of testing it did for PFAS in shellfish taken from area brooks.
Environmental scientist Mindi Messmer filed a Freedom of Information request to get the results, which the Air Force turned over last week.
Messmer, a former state representative, said she is “most concerned about the oysters and clams collected from the mouth of Knight’s Brook, which is within the open shellfish area.”
That area was recently closed to shellfishing due to red tide.
She calculated from the data received from the Air Force that the total PFAS found in one oyster was in excess of 55,000 parts per trillion.
She acknowledged the Air Force conducted only about 10 tests for PFAS in shellfish taken from brooks around Great Bay. But she believes that signs should be put up in areas where the shellfish were taken to warn people about the high levels.
“Until we know that it’s safe to eat shellfish at these extremely high levels, I would be very cautious about eating them,” Messmer said.
Shellfish were tested at the mouth of McIntyre Brook, Herod’s Cove, Broad Cove at the mouth of Knight’s Brook and Woodman Point, according to the Air Force information.
Glenn Normandeau, the executive director of N.H. Fish and Game, said he did recently receive information about the test results from Messmer.
“I’ve got no inside information from the Air Force,” he said Monday. “We’d like to understand a lot better what that even means, which I don’t know.”
Normandeau did state that setting consumption levels “is a very different thing from the drinking water standards.”
Plus, he added, it would likely be the Department of Environmental Services or Health and Human Services who would set levels for people eating shellfish or anything else with PFAS in them.
“Essentially we’re not the human health authorities. That’s not our kind of wheelhouse to be honest with you,” he said.
He does want to see the entire Air Force report on the tests and hopes they will release it to the public.
“Obviously we’ve got concerns about these chemicals, we don’t have a lot of knowledge ourselves about consumption limits,” he said.
Fish and Game officials have met several times with state health officials to discuss how to deal with PFAS chemicals, Normandeau said.
It’s likely they will talk again over the next week or two, he said.
He also plans to meet with his marine staff about the test results.
Asked if he was concerned about the results he’s seen, Normandeau said, “It’s all a concern to me. We’ve got all kinds of stuff that we’re dealing with. It’s one of only about 400 things that keeps me awake at night.”
“It’s something to be concerned about and pay attention to,” he added.
Fish and Game is also hoping this fall if they get the required funding to test wildlife, including deer, for their PFAS levels, Normandeau said.
“I think there’s a long way to go before we know what’s going on with this stuff,” he said. “We’re not the experts to even be making that determination.”
Messmer wants the Air Force to test for about 26 of the estimated 4,700 PFAS chemicals. The test results she received showed “a snapshot of 14 PFAS chemicals,” she added.
Local concern over PFAS contamination in the Seacoast began in 2014 when the chemicals were discovered at the Portsmouth owned Haven well at the Pease International Tradeport.
Officials believe the PFAS came from firefighting foam used at the former Air Force base, according to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Thousands of people working at the 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. The city closed the well in May 2014 after the Air Force detected high levels of PFOS.
The ATSDR states PFAS exposure can increase cancer risks, lower birth weights, harm liver, thyroid and pancreas functions and increase cholesterol levels.
The state Department of Environmental Services has proposed establishing maximum contaminant levels (MCLs)/drinking water standards and ambient groundwater quality standards (AGQS) for four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS).
The standards are substantially lower than the Environmental Protection Agency’s levels for PFOA and PFOS.
The standards it proposed are 12 parts per trillion for PFOA, 15 ppt for PFOS, 18 ppt for PFHxs and 11 ppt for PFNA. DES stated it established the levels to “ensure greater protection of public health related to the consumption of drinking water.”
DES said MCLs are drinking water quality standards that public water systems must comply with and an AGQS is the standard used to require remedial action and the provision of alternative drinking water at a contaminated site.
PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics.
The rulemaking proposal is set to be voted on by the New Hampshire Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) at its July 18 meeting.
If approved by JLCAR, the new rules are scheduled to take effect Oct. 1.