III. Community Health Concerns

ATSDR solicits and responds to health concerns expressed by members of the community. This section addresses health concerns that have come to NHDHHS’s and ATSDR’s attention during the health assessment process. Pease AFB has an existing community relations plan developed by the Air Force. In addition, an information repository has been established at the Air Force Base Conversion Agency offices in the New Hampshire Air National Guard area at Pease International Tradeport (Building 151). Site fact sheets and newsletters have been developed to describe and explain the clean-up process and status of remedial actions. Copies of these and other documents related to remedial activities at Pease AFB can be found at the repository. A Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) was established to serve as a liaison between the community and the Air Force. The RAB is composed of community members and representatives from the Air Force, USEPA and NHDES. RAB meetings are generally called on a quarterly basis and are open to the public.

The following is a summary of concerns that have been expressed:

Was drinking water safe in the past? How about currently and in the future?

Use of contaminated drinking water poses no apparent health hazard. Past use of solvents and deicing agents has resulted in TCE and nitrate contamination in groundwater that has been detected in water from wells serving the base water supply. Actions have been taken to reduce the contamination, and currently base water meets all drinking water standards. The wells are regularly monitored to ensure that future drinking water will be safe to use. A discussion of the contamination in the base drinking water can be found in the Environmental Pathways and Human Exposure section.

Will contamination under the flight line impact the Haven well?

Areas of contaminated soil and groundwater under the flight line have been thoroughly studied. Based upon the distance from the contamination to the Haven well, the rate of groundwater movement, and the rate of naturally occurring degradation, it is unlikely that TCE contamination will reach the Haven well at levels that pose a health risk. Flight line contamination is under a regular monitoring program that will detect any contamination approaching the well, and enable the Air Force, USEPA, and NHDES to take action to prevent Haven well water contamination.

I heard a rumor that there was an increase in stillbirths and miscarriages in the base hospital in early 1980s. Could it be attributed to contaminated drinking water?

In the early 1980s, base drinking water contained levels of TCE above current drinking water standards. The nature and extent of contamination and possibility of adverse health effects from use of this water are discussed in the Evaluation of Environmental Contamination and Human Exposure section of this document. This evaluation of estimated exposures to past residents and workers indicated that adverse health effects from drinking and bathing in this water are unlikely.

Studies have shown that there may be an association between TCE contamination in drinking water and low birth weight babies (Sonnenfeld 1997, Schendel 1996). Other studies suggest that there may also be an increase in birth defects (e.g., cleft lip, cleft palate, and heart defects) for babies whose mothers consumed TCE-contaminated drinking water during pregnancy (Bove 1995, Goldberg 1990, Schendel 1996). Although these studies indicate possible associations, it is difficult to say for certain that TCE contamination in the water caused the observed defects because of limitations in the studies. The evidence is not sufficient to prove causality, and further research is needed. For comparison, the maximum concentrations of TCE in drinking water identified in the study at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina (1400 μg/L) were higher than the concentrations at Pease AFB in the early 1980s (82 μg/L).

The period of potential exposure to nitrates above the drinking water standard was in 1994 and 1995, which was after the anecdotal reports of miscarriages and stillbirths on the base in the 1980s.

Data on adverse pregnancy outcomes at Pease AFB are not available, because the State of New Hampshire does not have a birth defects registry.

Smoke from the fire department training areas went over the base fence into Newington. Are there any health risks from the smoke?

According to the National Climactic Data Center, the wind rarely blows from the base toward Newington (approximately 5-10% of the time) (NCDC 1978). Furthermore, the burns were of short duration, lasting only 10-15 minutes. Therefore, it is unlikely that sustained exposures to contaminants in smoke occurred.

Because no air samples were taken during training burns, the concentrations of contaminants in smoke are unknown. Computer models have been used to estimate the worst-case concentration levels of volatile organic compounds, using benzene as a surrogate for the chemical mixture in the smoke because it is a potent human carcinogen. Smoke can contain other contaminants such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that have shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies (USEPA 1993, ATSDR 1995, Benner 1990). The estimated concentrations of benzene were below levels likely to cause adverse health effects even under worst-case conditions, such as regular exposure over many years to conditions at the fence line of the base.

A review of disease statistics for the town of Newington, did not identify any elevated cancer rates for this town in the period between 1987 and 1991. A discussion of this evaluation is presented in the Health Outcome Data Review section and Appendix D.

Are there any risks from swimming and fishing in Peverly and Bass ponds?

Low levels of pesticides and some metals were detected in fish, surface water, and sediments. The contamination levels are unlikely to result in adverse health effects from swimming and fishing. More details on this exposure pathway are presented in the Environmental Pathways and Human Exposure section.

Asbestos was removed from the Bracket School in the mid 1980s. Was there any risk to students and staff?

The most significant health threat that asbestos poses is through the inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers. Toxicity of asbestos is primarily dependent on exposure intensity and duration, along with other factors including the physical and chemical properties of the fibers. Asbestos-related lung diseases have been primarily reported after long-term exposures to asbestos in occupational settings. Exposures of such magnitude and duration are not usually experienced by the general public.

When asbestos is firmly bound up in products such as insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, roof shingles, pipe wrapping and cement that are in good condition (“non-friable asbestos”), there is little likelihood that exposure will occur. However, when asbestos containing materials (ACM) are in a crumbling or deteriorated condition (“friable asbestos”), asbestos fibers can be released and pose the greatest risk for causing harm.

Since the mid-1980s, federal law has required that public school buildings be periodically inspected and monitored for asbestos. Precautions must be taken when friable asbestos is removed from schools to insure that there is no airborne release of fibers that would pose a risk to students, staff, or other people who may subsequently access the building. Asbestos abatement projects in schools that are done in a responsible and appropriate manner should not present an increased risk to users of these facilities.

Asbestos is still present in exterior and interior portions of the Bracket School building. The risk that this material poses to the community should be minimal as long as exterior ACM is intact and access to the building interior continues to be restricted.

There is asbestos in former base housing. The housing is in close proximity to a day care center. Is there a threat of release and exposure to children?

Since 1994, the Pease Development Authority has been involved with removing ACM and demolishing old housing units in the former base housing area. These activities will continue until all ACM that poses a potential health hazard is safely removed from these units and properly disposed. The likelihood that occupants of the nearby day care center will be exposed to ACM within the remaining units is not significant. Due to the presence of physical hazards, individuals should be cautioned to stay out of these buildings until they are demolished.

A fire occurred in February 1998 in one former base housing unit located across from the day care center. At the time of the fire, only a small quantity of ACM was estimated to be within floor tiles, insulation in hot water pipes, flashing in the garage roof, and some window caulking within this unit, and it was not likely to have become airborne as a result of this event. ACM that was present in this burnt housing unit has been removed and should no longer present a health risk to the community. There is evidence of vandalism and trespassing in the base housing area. Access to the area is unrestricted. Concern remains regarding physical hazards and the possibility of additional fires occurring in the former base housing area.

Is there an increased incidence of either breast or brain cancer among former base personnel, residents, and civilian staff?

No statistically significant increases in breast or brain cancers were found. Health statistics were evaluated and presented in the Health Outcome Data Review section of this document.

Is there an increased incidence of cancers among Newington residents?

No statistically significant increases in cancers were found in Newington residents. Health statistics were evaluated and presented in the Health Outcome Data Review section of this document.

Was any radiation released from the ordnance storage areas? Can I come into contact with it?

Pease AFB, being a Strategic Air Command base, had the potential for storing and maintaining nuclear weapons. Operations at the base did not involve any maintenance on unsealed sources of radioactive material. The potential for release and contamination was very unlikely. In 1990, the Air Force conducted a radiological survey of weapons storage areas and did not detect any radioactivity above background levels (Thurlow 1990).

Can I get sick from eating game hunted on base?

It is unlikely that hunters were at any health risk associated with the consumption of game taken from these areas. Considerable effort has been made at the former Pease AFB to identify and characterize the extent of chemical contamination and pathways by which humans could have been at risk from potential exposure to chemical contaminants at the base. No sampling data are available which would allow NHDHHS to directly evaluate the health risk associated with the consumption of game taken on the base. Even without sampling data, however, it can be stated that the possibility for exposure to chemical contaminants is probably low given that game species did not range in contaminated areas. Furthermore, hunting was infrequent and did not occur in areas of the base where chemical contamination was identified.

Are there any impacts to the wildlife refuge from base contamination?

For the purpose of this Public Health Assessment, NHDHHS and ATSDR focused on human health issues. Ecological impacts to the wildlife refuge are not addressed in this document. During the remedial process, ecological risks were considered in determining where and what remediation occurred. Documents evaluating ecological risks are located in the repository at the Air Force Base Conversion Agency offices.

How do emissions from aircraft, cars, and buses currently operating on the base affect the air quality at nearby homes? Is there a plan to monitor the impact of these emissions on the residents in the local area?

There are very little data on the concentrations of hazardous substances in the air near active airports nationwide. Jet engines are regulated by emission standards, not by ambient air monitoring near the runway. Therefore, NHDHHS cannot accurately evaluate the potential health impacts from aircraft or buses operating at Pease Air Force Base at this time because measurements of toxic substances in the air are not available.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Air Resources Division (NHDES-ARD) exercises regulatory control over individual sources of ambient air pollution and is responsible for operating an ambient air monitoring network. NHDHHS has reviewed the concerns raised in this comment with NHDES-ARD, who provided the following relevant information. The ambient air quality is continuously monitored in nearby Portsmouth and Rye. Air monitoring is resource intensive, and most of what is done in the State is funded by USEPA. NHDES-ARD said that ambient air pollution concentrations do not vary a great deal over broad regions, and there are not any plans at present to conduct additional monitoring in the area around the airport. The fuel that most aircraft and bus traffic use is similar to that used in on-highway heavy duty vehicles, andemissions from aircraft and on-road engines are regulated at the federal level. The contribution of aircraft activity to the regional air pollution inventory is small, and it is not expected that increased activity at the airport such as that proposed will create exceedances of any of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Residents who have further questions regarding ambient air quality and monitoring should write to:

Kenneth A. Colburn, Director
NHDES – Air Resources Division
PO Box 95 – 6 Hazen Drive
Concord, NH 03301

NHDHHS and ATSDR completed and distributed the Public Comment Release of the Public Health Assessment for Pease Air Force Base on July 28, 1999. Following this, NHDHHS and ATSDR held a public meeting on August 11, 1999, to present the findings of the draft public health assessment. Comments on the document were accepted until September 10, 1999. All the written comments received by this date with responses from NHDHHS are listed in Appendix F.

Page last reviewed: September 30, 1999