EPA to kick off PFAS community events in Exeter

The EPA kicks off its PFAS community engagements events in Exeter on June 25-26, offering citizens the opportunity to speak about their experiences with water contamination from the Saint-Gobain plant in Merrimack.

After hosting its National Leadership Summit to address PFAS issues in Washington on May 22-23, the EPA announced it would host regional follow-up meetings, with the first scheduled in New Hampshire. The meeting originally was scheduled to be at the Pease Industrial Port in Portsmouth, the site of water contamination at a former Air Force base, but was changed to Exeter.

“We needed a larger location to accommodate as many people as possible, and there were only 150 seats in Portsmouth,” said Alexandra Dunn, the New England regional administrator for the EPA. “Exeter has a capacity for 1,000 people in the auditorium, and we are happy to accommodate anyone who wants to participate.”

The event will be at Exeter High School, from 4:30-10 p.m. on June 25 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 26.

Speakers will be allotted three minutes at the June 25 session, and can sign up in advance at https://www.epa.gov/pfas/forms/pfas-community-engagement-exeter-nh. Dunn said there is no need to sign up, but those who do will be guaranteed a slot.

One of those who is eager to participate is Laurene Allen, who leads the Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water group. Allen has coordinated the participation of residents from Merrimack and other towns that have experienced water contamination, including Westfield, Massachusetts and Hoosick Falls, New York.

“We hope to tell our community’s story and get them to realize what it’s like from a resident’s perspective,” Allen said. “We agree with what the Department of Environmental Services is doing. The state can pass its own laws, but the federal government must step up to strengthen things.”

She is counting on the support of fellow residents, too.

“I have faith in people of the community, who will make good use of their three minutes. We need to lay the groundwork so everything will fall into place,” she said.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said the organization plans to take four actions following the summit: establishing a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS; designating them as hazardous substances; developing groundwater cleanup recommendations at contaminated sites; and establishing toxicity values for GenX and PFBS.

Dunn said the current 70 parts per trillion MCL established by the EPA in 2016 is a health advisory and not a regulation.

“A regulation is more enforceable and stronger than an advisory,” she said.

The EPA will look at lower levels that have been approved in other states, including Vermont, but said, “MCLs are based on many factors, including age, body weight and the amount of water that is consumed.”

The EPA’s current standard is based on female adults, while Vermont’s 20 ppt is based on 1-year-old children, she noted.

The EPA will establish clean-up regulations based on the toxicity levels of air and groundwater.

“Once we have established the levels, they can be used by regulators to make clean-up decisions,” Dunn said.

“We’re collaborating with state and federal partners to develop toxicity standards for GenX and PFBS,” she added. “GenX is a significant issue in North Carolina, but we are not aware it has appeared in New England yet.”

Pruitt appeared at the National Leadership Summit, but the EPA has not announced whether he will attend the community engagement meeting in Exeter.

“Following the PFAs National Leadership Summit, it’s critical that EPA visit communities to hear directly from those impacted by PFAS,” he said. “This is the next step in our commitment to address challenges with PFAS and will provide valuable insight for EPA’s efforts moving forward.”

When asked how Pruitt and the Trump Administration’s campaign to overturn environmental regulations established by President Barack Obama will impact the PFAS issue, Molly Block, an EPA spokesperson, said, “Under the Trump Administration, EPA has made concerted efforts to improve environmental and health outcomes by refocusing on the Agency’s core mission: protecting human health and the environment. As Administrator Pruitt stressed at the PFAS National Leadership Summit, addressing PFAS is a national priority.”