Water Matters! Coakley Superfund Site Update — July 28, 2017:
Tourism is the 2nd largest income source raking in $5B per year for the state of New Hampshire. Popular attractions that bring in tourist dollars in the Seacoast area include water-based activities such as; party boats, whale watching, kayaking, personal water sports, beach-going and boating. The New Hampshire Seacoast has attracted businesses with the closing and transition of Pease Air Force Base to public use, a family-friendly tourist-based service industry and good schools for our children. But, drinking water issues have become a top priority to citizens and state regulators.
Drinking water issues are front and center after the closing of the Haven Well which supplied 10% of the City of Portsmouth’s drinking water. After the well was closed, we learned that about 1,500 adults and 350 children attending daycares at the former base had elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFAs) in their blood from drinking the contaminated water. Now owners of businesses at the former air base are talking about difficulties attracting and keeping talent. Four more wells that supply water to the City of Portsmouth are threatened by contamination migrating from an area where the Air Force trained between 1970 and 1988 for fire response using aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) the former Fire Training area. Many other sources of PFA contamination have been identified on the former base.
In March 2016, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS) determined that a CDC-defined pediatric cancer cluster exists in a 5-town area of the seacoast. Environmental triggers for the pediatric cancers have been investigated through a Task Force set up by Governor Maggie Hassan. Recently the NHDHHS has admitted that pediatric brain cancer rates in the 5-town area exceed 7 times the expected rate.
Early in the investigations conducted by the Task Force the focus turned to Coakley Superfund Site, located in Greenland, New Hampshire, which is geographically central to the pediatric cancer cluster. This old unlined dump had been largely forgotten over time, except by a few longtime residents. The re-discovery of this dump site has been eye-opening for myself and the seacoast community.
While the dump is in Greenland, the Town of Greenland did not contribute to the problems at Coakley. The Department of the Defense (Air Force and Navy) shoulder 20% of the original responsibility and the remaining 80% is shouldered by the Coakley Landfill Group (CLG). The City of Portsmouth shoulders 54% of the CLG and the remaining portions are about 4% by North Hampton and the remaining 28% or so responsibility is shouldered by private chemical generators, haulers and businesses.
Back in the mid 1990s, the 92-acre landfill was “closed” by placing a 27-acre cap on the top of it and leaving it with no under liner. Those who paid into the “closure” likely thought the issue was over and done. Over time and since largely forgotten, development in the area around the landfill included groundwater withdrawal from commercial and private wells and irrigation systems that draws contaminants out from under the cap.
However, when the Task Force realized that the Air Force was a responsible party at Coakley and knowing about PFA contamination at Pease, we pushed for PFA testing in Coakley wells. In May 2016, PFAs were discovered in monitoring wells around the landfill at levels up to over 16 times the state standard. PFAs are found in a variety of consumer products like Teflon and other stain, water and heat resistant products which is exactly what makes them persistent, difficult and costly to remove once they are released to the environment. In addition, PFAs accumulate in your body and stay there for years once exposure is ended. Ingesting contaminated water is the primary source of elevated PFA serum levels.
Lots of progress has been made in recent weeks with respect to environmental work relating to Coakley Landfill Superfund Site. There is much more that needs to be done and understood but here’s a summary of recent accomplishments:
1- In response to a letter signed by 11 area legislators, our signs will be replaced with signs paid for by Coakley Landfill Group (CLG), the primary responsible party for contaminating Coakley Landfill Superfund Site (dump). CLG has agreed to USEPA’s request to post 4 warning signs along Berry’s Brook within the next week or so. This will let the public know it may not be safe to contact the water.
2- In response to a letter signed by 11 legislators, DES has agreed that an evaluation of the PFC impact on fish in Berry’s Brook needs to be addressed. They say they are working on it. Many other states (New York, Alabama, Minnesota and Michigan) and other countries, like Australia, are ahead of us here.
3- In response to a letter signed by 11 area legislators, DES has stated that they believe that “actions need to be implemented at the site to provide additional removal or containment of the contamination, 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.” This is a HUGE admission by the NHDES. Unfortunately, because this is an EPA lead site and since PFCs are not considered “hazardous” the path to achieving this is unclear currently.
4- HUGE positive recent development — CLG has been compelled to do a detailed bedrock hydrogeologic evaluation to assess flow to the north, northwest, east, south and southwest. This has been a big issue of contention and I am thrilled that regulators are now admitting that the bedrock fracture flow component has never been addressed. This is significant, as I have continually maintained, because this is likely to be the main mechanism for transport to private drinking water wells.
5- PFC concentrations in 13 out of 16 monitoring wells have increased over one year in monitoring wells located within the groundwater management zone. Some have shown significant increases, nearly doubling, over last year. This should indicate the need to monitor private wells all around the landfill to ensure that concentrations are not increasing. Recent results are located here: https://www4.des.state.nh.us/IISProxy/IISProxy.dll…
6- PFCs have been detected at high concentrations in sediment and leachate samples near the landfill. see link above.
7- The city of Portsmouth has abandoned plans to install a water supply well less than 1.5 miles from Coakley citing concerns about Coakley Landfill. This is important because it is an acknowledgement that contaminants PFCs are migrating from Coakley along fracture zones in the bedrock.
8- Although EPA felt they could not compel the CLG to sample certain private wells in Greenland, DES has agreed to include those two wells in sampling this fall.
9- NH legislators have made a very strong case for the need to evaluate PFC concentrations along the full length in all brooks that originate near Coakley landfill.
10- We have requested another public meeting in late September or early October in Greenland so that the regulators can update the public on their revised approach to investigations.
Other seacoast towns are starting to join in and are concerned about the migration of PFCs from Coakley in surface water and groundwater.
1- Hampton is concerned about PFC concentrations increasing in several wells located in North Hampton that supply the town of Hampton public water supply.
2- Comments have been submitted to the NHDES relating to Aquarion’s plans to use a well located in Hampton that would likely draw in saltwater from the ocean which would be devastating for the aquifer. The plan is flawed. In addition, a pumping well in this location could possibly be impacted by landfills in the area. See figure to left showing well buffer area and potential sources of contamination for Well MW-22.
3- Elevated PFCs have been detected twice now in monitoring wells located within 800 feet of the town water supply in Rye. PFCs are likely coming from the old Grove Road landfill.
We are done by any means, but a lot of progress has been made and we will continue to make progress. Drinking water is a valuable resource which must be protected. Our property values and the health and well-being of our children and families depend on clean and safe drinking water. HB431 Drinking Water Commission is about to get started — the primary focus will be planning and protecting our seacoast drinking water resource. The recent death of 9-year old Ciara Brill from brain cancer is a reminder of why we fight.
Keep updated by joining New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/108449969661474/ (Not just for New Hampshire residents).