No easy answers for PFAS

Environmental regulators have quite the mess on their hands when it comes to the topic of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

During a Monday New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services public hearing, Merrimack resident Kathryn Hodge asked DES Legal Coordinator Peter Demas, “When are you going to start protecting us?”

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

On Dec. 31, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services initiated efforts to establish maximum contaminant levels for PFAS. Residents attending the Monday public hearing largely favored more stringent standards.

Merrimack has issues with contaminants in its water for years. New Hampshire regulators 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 Performance Plastics plant.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that in addition to plastics, PFAS are often found in stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and fire-fighting foams.

“New Hampshire can and must do better for its residents. Our health and safety should not be jeopardized,” New Hampshire state Rep. Wendy Thomas, D-Merrimack, added during the Monday hearing.

However, business leaders are concerned about regulatory overreach. Jim Roche is president of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, which serves as the Granite State’s statewide chamber of commerce. He is concerned about holes he sees in the report DES released earlier this year regarding PFAS.

“Realistic costs to residents, municipalities, and businesses are not provided. Finally, the department needs to appropriately answer the most basic question: will lowering maximum containment levels have any measurable effect on health outcomes. To date, this question has not been properly addressed,” Roche said.

We agree with Roche that state regulators must consider how much further action against PFAS will cost the state. However, we also believe officials should evaluate the cost that not taking action will have for the state.

Chemical regulation is a complicated matter, so we will defer to the expertise of state and federal officials when it comes to PFAS.