Senate PFAS hearing has N.H. focus

New Hampshire residents told members of a U.S. Senate committee this week that regulators need to do a better job protecting them from cancer-causing chemicals known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

These materials – generally associated with the production of plastics, foams, and waxes – have been identified near the Saint Gobain Performance Plastics facility at Merrimack.

Testifying during a U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs session, Portsmouth resident Andrea Amico said the Environmental Protection Agency needs to prioritize the matter. She founded a group known as Testing for Pease.

“We need to make sure the EPA takes into consideration the most susceptible populations and looks at exposed communities,” Amico said.

During the hearing, U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, both D-N.H., participated. Hassan, a member of the committee, questioned EPA Director of Ground Water and Drinking Water Peter Grevatt.

Grevatt said the organization supports its advisory standard of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFAS.

“We are not planning on updating our health advisories for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and believe the health levels are supported by the strongest science,” Grevatt said.

When Hassan asked him whether the EPA will follow the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) research on PFAS levels, Grevatt said, “We will pay close attention to ATSDR and other research and as the science develops we’ll make sure our levels are correct.”

“EPA does not currently plan to update the health advisories for PFOA and PFOS at this time. As a part of the commitments made at the National Leadership Summit in May, EPA announced it will initiate steps to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS,” EPA spokeswoman Molly Block added.

Laurene Allen heads Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water.

“The EPA is on record for not changing the 70 ppt limit, and now the state will have to take the lead. Nothing changes and Saint-Gobain can go on doing what it’s doing as long as it’s under 70,” Allen said.

Near the end of the hearing, Hassan asked Amico if she believes the EPA standard of 70ppt is protective enough. “I do not,” Amico said. She cited New Jersey and other state data that supports lowering the standard.

Both New Hampshire senators filed letters and statements from residents concerning PFAS and questioned the witnesses on a number of subjects, including technologies that exist to ensure safe drinking water from private wells and PFAS contamination at military bases and their surrounding communities.

Shaheen urged the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to research the potential link between PFAS contamination and cancer in response to a July report indicating that New Hampshire had the highest pediatric cancer rates in the country between 2003 and 2014.

National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences Director Linda Birnbaum spoke about the science of PFAS. She said PFAS are 4,700 human-made chemicals that do not degrade and remain in the environment for so long that officials cannot estimate the environmental half-life. They impact human health, from the cognitive and neurological development of children to cancer and diabetes in adults. She said drinking water is the predominant means of exposure.

Amico was one of three witnesses who discussed their personal experiences with PFAS. She said she and her husband moved to Portsmouth in 2007 and raised two children who attended a daycare facility near the Pease Air Force base in 2011.

“You can imagine the feeling of my heart sinking when I read in a local newspaper article in 2014 that high levels of contaminants had been found in one of the Pease wells that supplies drinking water,” she said. “I immediately thought of my husband and two small children that were at Pease for work and daycare every day and drinking the water.”

Amico said she started advocating four years ago to set up blood testing for her family.

“My work quickly evolved into advocating for the entire Pease community to better understand the long term health impacts, given this significant environmental exposure,” she said. “I am a co-founder of Testing for Pease, and our role as community leaders has evolved into working with other impacted community leaders across the nation by advocating on behalf of millions of Americans that have been unknowingly exposed to contaminated drinking water and now need more action.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who hosted the event with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., reiterated the PFAS crisis is a serious issue we will be dealing with for a long time. He invited citizens to submit statements for the next 15 days that will be included in the public record.

Statements can be sent to this address: https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/contact/committee.