Southern New Hampshire towns still plagued by polluted water

The ongoing water crisis relating to PFOA pollution from the Saint-Gobain facility in Merrimack carries on, despite the company’s efforts to assist in providing clean drinking water for residents and repairing two local wells that were shut down after the chemical was discovered.

Until recently, 58 homes in Merrimack, 41 in Litchfield and 97 in Bedford were drinking bottled water, said James Martin, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Dana Silver Pokedoff, a branding director at Saint-Gobain said 370 Litchfield homes were connected to the Pennichuck public water system and no longer need bottled water. Work is underway to connect an additional 21 homes in Merrimack to the municipal water lines of Manchester water works and an additional 18 homes in Litchfield should be connected to public water supplies later this year.

Troy Brown, Litchfield’s town manager, said some residents of the 18

Litchfield homes may not want to be connected to public water lines because they have private wells and don’t pay for public water. “They are upset by the monthly water bill, which ranges from $45 to $80,” he said.

Relying on water from private wells may be dangerous because of the lingering PFOA pollution. Blood tests conducted by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services last year on 219 individuals who use private drinking water wells found that their average PFC level was 4.4 micrograms per liter, compared with 1.9 micrograms per liter for the general U.S. population.

That puts them at risk of a variety of dangerous health outcomes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which sites exposures to PFOA from contaminated drinking water may result in increased liver enzymes, chronic kidney disease and deficit hyperactivity disorders.

State epidemiologist Benjamin Chan said the long term health effects from PFOA contamination are unclear. “It can affect hormones in our body liver, and prostate, kidney and testicular cancer is a major concern,” he said at a Department of Environmental Services PFOA water information meeting in Merrimack on Oct. 10.

Residents are using bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth but can continue to shower with public and well water because dermal exposure is not considered a risk, Martin said.

After PFOA contamination was discovered in Merrimack, public water wells 4 and 5 were taken off line. Clark Friese, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said, “We need them to come back online, they provide up to one million gallons a day.” There have been delays in Saint-Gobain’s participation in assistance. “There were neighborhoods in dispute,” Friese said, but Pokedoff said, “A preliminary engineering design has been prepared for a potential filtration system in the Merrimack Village District, serving wells 4 and 5. We are currently discussing the implementation of granular activated carbon filtration systems on wells 4 and 5.”

The Saint-Gobain water crisis started in 2016, when public water tests determined there were over 70 ppt (parts per trillion) of PFOA in local water. New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan and Andrew Cuomo and Peter Humlin, governors of New York and Vermont wrote to the EPA to call for government investments in safe drinking water upgrades.

“PFOA contamination is not a state or a regional problem, but a national problem that requires federal guidelines and a science-based approach,” they wrote.

There were Saint-Gomain PFOA contamination issues in Hoosic Falls, New York, and Burlington, Vermont, prior to New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Environmental Services tests found levels above 70ppt in wells 4 and 5.

The results of the blood tests found that individuals in southern New Hampshire with private wells contaminated water have higher PFOA blood levels than the general U.S. population but lower PFOA levels than residents of other exposed communities, including Hoosick Falls, New York, and Bennington, Vermont.

“It’s the largest ground water investigation in the history of New Hampshire,” Martin said. “We’ve gone beyond a mile and a half radius from the Saint-Gobain plant and performed thousands of well tests on hundreds of properties. We’ve tested neighborhood in four communities. It’s massive and ongoing and we are continuing to collect samples in the area.”

Some residents whose blood hasn’t been tested have requested tests, but the testing has stopped for budgetary reasons.

In addition, there are more than 100 homes in Merrimack, Bedford and Litchfield that request to be connected to public water, but Saint-Gobain disputes responsibility for contamination in those areas so they haven’t been connected, Martin said.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occassional series examining the ongoing water crisis in Merrimack and surrounding areas. The first installment looks at the overall issue and how many local municipalities and residents have been affected.