By Michael Casey, Associated Press
(This article was originally posted in the Seacoast Online on July 23rd, 2020)
New Hampshire’s governor signed into law a bill Thursday that sets some of nation’s toughest drinking water standards for a group of toxic chemicals and provides tens of millions of dollars for cleanup cost.
The bill includes standards put forth last year by the state Department of Environmental Services for potentially harmful chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known collectively as PFAS. The standards limit one chemical to a maximum of 12 parts per trillion and another to 15 ppt, far lower than the 70 ppt the federal Environmental Protection Agency has advised for the chemicals.
“We do have a PFAS problem in the state, and we’ve always said we don’t want a problem to become a crisis,” Gov. Chris Sununu told reporters.
The bill was inspired by a lawsuit filed last year by 3M, a farmer and several others who are trying to block the standards from taking effect. A judge in the case issued a temporary injunction in December that prevents the standards from being enforced.
“The right to clean water is an issue that cuts across party lines,” said Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye. “I am proud of the bipartisan work done by the Senate to bring together four important pieces of legislation.”
He cited setting maximum contaminant levels for PFAS based on the latest toxicologic science from DES, providing relief to municipalities facing remediation projects, ensuring insurance coverage for PFAS blood testing, and extending the Commission on the Seacoast Cancer Cluster Investigation.
“Particularly for the Seacoast and towns surrounding Merrimack, this legislation is critical for the long-term health and safety of New Hampshire residents,” Sherman said.
“The community of Merrimack and all Granite Staters impacted by PFAS contamination can begin to breathe a sigh of relief today,” said Rep. Wendy Thomas, a Democrat from Merrimack, which has been impacted by PFAS contamination.
Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said lawmakers worked all session across the aisle to address concerns about drinking water safety.
“We are able to provide critical financial support for our municipalities as we work towards long-term remediation efforts,” he said.
Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said Sununu’s action was “a great day for clean, healthy drinking water in the state of new Hampshire” and “great news for municipalities who will be able to clean up their drinking water.”
The N.H. Municipal Association supported the bill. But opponents complained the $50 million in loans included in the bill to help communities with remediation efforts is less than a fifth of the estimated cost of such an undertaking.
Business groups also came out against the bill, complaining it would saddle communities with extraordinary costs and set standards not supported by the science.
The loans to communities could be paid back if the state reaches a settlement with the eight companies, including 3M and the DuPont Co., that it has sued, accusing them of being responsible for damage caused by PFAS.
The standards were inspired by widespread PFAS contamination across the state. Hundreds of homes in New Hampshire, whose drinking water was contaminated by PFAS have been connected to new water. The state estimates more than 100,000 other people eventually could have contaminated water.
Studies have found potential links between high levels in the body of one form of the contaminants and a range of illnesses, including kidney cancer, increased cholesterol levels and problems in pregnancies. In the case of New Hampshire, the state lowered the standards it proposed after reviewing a study that found toddlers could be exposed to PFAS through breast milk.
PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics. They also have a range of applications in the aerospace, aviation, automotive and electronics industries.