Address PFAS problem

In an act so brazen it is almost inconceivable by today’s standards, polluters in the 1970s transported liquid hazardous waste from a Massachusetts incinerator for disposal in Nashua on a regular basis. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “over 800,000 gallons of hazardous wastes” were dumped directly onto the ground at a site along Gilson Road in south Nashua in 1979, alone.

One of the original contaminants identified at the Sylvester Superfund site upon EPA investigation was carcinogenic benzene. This material is associated with petroleum derivatives, such as gasoline and motor oil. Though most of the benzene is now gone, EPA spokeswoman Kelsey Dumville told our reporter small amounts can still be detected at the site.

Forty years after the hazardous waste dumping, more contaminants continue to be discovered in the 28-acre site. Federal and state regulators confirmed this week that PFAS, officially per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are the same materials causing problems in Merrimack after being identified near the Saint Gobain Performance Plastics facility.

The EPA states that health effects associated with exposure to PFAS can include low infant birth weights, immune system problems and even cancer.

“EPA does not believe significant public health risks exist at or near the site, but residents should not drink the groundwater,” EPA spokeswoman Kelsey Dumville told our reporter.

Michael Summerlin is an engineer with the Hazardous Waste Remediation Bureau of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

“Up until PFAS came along, it was doing pretty good,” Summerlin said of cleanup at the Sylvester site. “Now, we have to investigate the extent of this emerging contaminant.”

Summerlin said levels of PFAS contamination found were as high as 300 parts per trillion (ppt). New Hampshire’s regulatory limit for PFAS is 70 parts per trillion, meaning the identified concentrations exceeded the limit by more than four times.

“That tells us we need to expand our search to make sure we get a good handle on the extent of the PFAS plume,” Summerlin said.

Fortunately, residents in the area today do not depend on groundwater for their homes, as the city of Nashua extened municipal water service to this area in the early 1980s.

Still, what about children or pets that may exploring the outdoors? What about stormwater runoff? What about Main Dunstable Elementary School being less than a mile down the road?

We urge city, state and federal officials to address this matter as quickly as possible. Many of the nearby residents likely had no idea they were getting into something like this. We want regulators to do their best to mitigate this mess before people or animals get unnecessarily sick.