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Portsmouth Herald: State admits PFCs are migrating from Coakley Landfill
By Jeff McMenemy
Posted Jul 10, 2017 at 5:28 PM
Updated at 9:39 AM
GREENLAND — A state official believes “the migration of contaminants from site groundwater” at the Coakley Landfill “and the resultant impacts on Berry’s Brook are unacceptable and need to be addressed.”
Michael Wimsatt, the director of the state Department of Environmental Services’ Waste Management Division, made the comment in response to a recent letter sent to him by a group of Seacoast lawmakers concerned about high levels of PFCs found in Berry’s Brook after the chemicals left the Coakley Landfill Superfund site.
Wimsatt also said “actions need to be implemented at the site to provide additional removal or containment of the contamination in order to mitigate these surface water quality impacts.”
“In the long run, this will be the most reliable way to limit exposure to site contaminants via the surface water pathway,” Wimsatt stated in the July 7 email.
Wimsatt told the Portsmouth Herald that DES and EPA officials will be meeting Tuesday to discuss a series of issues relating to PFCs in Berry’s Brook.
EPA serves as the “lead agency for management and oversight of the Coakley site,” Wimsatt said.
Asked Monday how the PFCs at Coakley could be removed or contained, Wimsatt said, “I think that’s yet to be determined.”
He said there was “an original remedy for the site that was considered but not implemented” involving the “interception and treatment of shallow groundwater” at the landfill.
The Coakley Landfill Group (CLG) is responsible for paying for remediation at the site. Portsmouth City Attorney Robert Sullivan has said the CLG includes Portsmouth, North Hampton, Newington, the U.S. Air Force and several private companies, mostly trash haulers and generators.
Sullivan, who represents the CLG, said “I have not seen the letter” when asked about the potential financial impact the group could face if the EPA agreed that a treatment or containment system needs to be installed at the landfill.
“I wouldn’t want to comment on the letter without seeing it,” Sullivan said.
Many area residents are worried chemicals leaching from the landfill, which is located in Greenland and North Hampton, will contaminate their residential drinking wells.
State Rep. Mindi Messmer, D-Rye, one of the state lawmakers who sent the letter to Wimsatt, said DES’ email “for the first time in writing admits that they agree with us about all the things we’ve been saying about chemicals migrating off the site.”
“I think this is a huge victory for the people in getting DES to admit there’s a problem and it needs to be addressed,” Messmer said Monday.
She pointed to the “advocacy of the legislators, the task force (the Seacoast Pediatric Cancer Cluster Task Force) and the public for voicing their concerns” about the chemicals coming from the landfill.
“It’s a big step in the right direction,” she said about Wimsatt’s email.
Wimsatt thanked the lawmakers for their letter “expressing concerns” about the PFCs in the surface water near the landfill, and said the agency “shares these concerns.”
“First and in the near term, NHDES believes that signage to alert the public to the presence of contaminants in the adjacent wetlands, seasonally flooded railroad bed and the uppermost reach of Berry’s Brook is appropriate,” Wimsatt said in the email.
The group of lawmakers, which includes Messmer and state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, had asked Wimsatt to alert the public about the PFCs in Berry’s Brook by posting signs.
“As you are aware, this area is open to the public and small children have been witnessed playing in Berry’s Brook. Berry’s Brook is also stocked with fish and the public routinely fishes in this brook,” the lawmakers stated in their letter.
DES has already discussed the issue of installing signs at Berry’s Brook with the EPA “and are working with them to determine how to best accomplish this,” Wimsatt said in his email.
State and federal officials did not know about PFCs and the threat to public health they posed until a few years ago.
Portsmouth closed its Haven well at the Pease International Tradeport in May 2014 after the Air Force found levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, 12.5 times higher than what was then the EPA’s provisional health advisory.
The EPA classifies PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, as “contaminants of emerging concern.”
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has stated that the health effects from PFC exposure are not yet clear. Early studies have tentatively linked PFC exposure to health problems including cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, developmental delays, pregnancy induced hypertension and preeclampsia.
Officials believe the PFCs that led to the closure of Portsmouth’s wells came from firefighting foam used at the former Pease Air Force Base, which also disposed of waste at the Coakley Landfill.
Wimsatt said “additional work needs to be completed in concert with New Hampshire Fish and Game” to address concerns raised by the lawmakers about how the PFCs in Berry’s Brook are impacting the fish that are stocked there, Wimsatt said.
DES has been working with EPA since May on the issue, Wimsatt said, and added that the agency will continue working with Fish and Game staff “to determine whether the surface water quality … poses any risk to residential anglers who catch and consume the stocked brown trout” in Berry’s Brook.
Messmer is hoping state lawmakers will hear shortly from DES “about a schedule for implementation” of the actions Wimsatt mentioned in the email.
The lawmakers’ letter was signed by Fuller Clark, Messmer and state Reps. Mike Edgar, Henry Marsh, Dennis Malloy, Becky McBeath, Pam Gordon, Tamara Le, Phil Bean, Laura Pantelakos and Renny Cushing.