PORTSMOUTH — The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to confirm the Trump administration’s nominee for a key Environmental Protection Agency position.
The Senate confirmed Peter Wright to serve as assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), which oversees the agency’s Superfund program.
Both the Pease International Tradeport, formerly the home of the Pease Air Force Base, and the Coakley Landfill in Greenland and North Hampton, are Superfund clean-up sites.
Before Thursday’s vote, New Hampshire’s United States senators called on the EPA to designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund program.
The designation would force polluters to pay for sites that have been contaminated by PFAS.
The chemicals contaminated a city-owned well in 2014 at Pease that exposed thousands of men, women and children at two day care centers to PFAS.
They have also been found at high levels in monitoring wells at the Coakley Landfill and at the adjacent Berry’s Brook in Greenland.
“While communities throughout New Hampshire – and the nation – continue to face PFAS contamination in their water supplies, the Trump administration is dragging its feet on responding to this pervasive problem. More than one year since the Environmental Protection Agency pledged to designate PFAS as a hazardous substance under the Superfund law, we’ve seen no action made toward this goal. That’s unacceptable,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. “The administration needs to be forthcoming with Congress and the American people about how they will remediate contaminated sites, prevent further exposure and respond to the concerns of our impacted residents.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., agreed and also criticized the EPA for its lack of action on the issue.
“It is completely unacceptable that communities across New Hampshire have to question the safety of their drinking water, and it is long past time that the EPA take this important step to speed-up cleanup efforts across the county,” Hassan said.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states PFAS exposure can increase cancer risks, lower birth weights, harm the liver, thyroid and pancreas and increase cholesterol levels.
PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics.
Officials believe firefighting foam contaminated the Haven Well at the Pease International Tradeport.
The EPA in May 2016 set permanent health advisories for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) at 70 parts per trillion.
But many states, like New Hampshire, have set or proposed substantially lower levels, believing the EPA’s standards are not protective enough to human health.