Local residents angry about PFAS

Telegraph photo by GRACE PECCI Concerned residents and state officials gather for a Monday public hearing at Merrimack Town Hall regarding PFAS.

MERRIMACK – Residents remain frustrated with state and federal officials when it comes to regulating the type of hazardous chemicals found near the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant, commonly known as PFAS.

New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Legal Coordinator Peter Demas found himself fielding questions and comments during a Monday public hearing at Merrimack Town Hall. The topic of the public hearing concerned the agency’s proposed administrative rules regarding per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

Merrimack resident Kathryn Hodge asked Demas quite simply, “When are you going to start protecting us?”

Hodge said she lives just over a mile from Saint Gobain. She alleged PFAS exposure as a contributing factor to her thyroid and kidney problems.

Hodge said her 14-year-old daughter and husband have a number of health issues as well. Her daughter was diagnosed with asthma at age 5. Her daughter, who is now 14, is on a number of medications. Hodge said the monthly co-pay for just one inhaler costs her family $120 a month.

“Add up that cost and then tell me Saint Gobain can’t pay for (cleanup). It shouldn’t come down to us paying for it,” Hodge said.

On Dec. 31, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services initiated rulemaking to establish Maximum

Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and Ambient Groundwater Quality Standards (AGQS) for PFAS.

In 2016, the NH DES adopted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory for PFAS at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) combined. However, new scientific information could persuade state regulators to adopt stricter standards, which would lower the number of allowable PFAS parts per trillion.

Monday evening’s hearing was the first of three public hearings set on the topic. The next hearings will take place Tuesday in Concord, as well as next week in Portsmouth. Comments will be taken into consideration before a final proposal is made.

Merrimack has issues with contaminants in its water for years. The Telegraph reported the state found PFAS in groundwater wells, and in the wells that supply water for Merrimack’s water system starting in 2016. The spread of the chemical is linked to the Saint-Gobain plant.

“You won’t be able to fool the public much longer,” Nashua resident Jeff Daly told Demas regarding some of the data presented during the meeting.

Barbara Healey, a Merrimack town councilor, told Demas she was speaking not as a town councilor, but as a former registered nurse. Healey spoke of times when women are pregnant and are told not to drink, or smoke, or take cold medicines or get in a hot tub, among many other things.

“If women who are pregnant can’t take meds for a cold, let’s not put PFA’s in the water. Let’s take them out,” Healey said.

New Hampshire state Rep. Wendy Thomas, D-Merrimack, addressed the issue of different states having different guidelines.

“What needs to be considered,” Thomas said, “Is a safe level of PFAS a matter of geography?”

Thomas said in New Jersey, her health would be better protected from contaminants.

“New Hampshire can and must do better for its residents,” Thomas said. “Our health and safety should not be jeopardized.”