New PFOA study alarms local residents

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s PFOA report released June 20 alarmed Merrimack residents, who are concerned about PFOAs in public and well water from the Saint-Gobain contamination.

“It states PFOA Maximum risk level is 11 parts per trillion and PFOA is 7 ppt and Merrimack water is all over these levels for PFOA, which is our main contaminant,” said Laurene Allen, who leads Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water. “27,000 people are at risk and have been drinking this water for at least 20 years.”

She sent an email to Clark Friese, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services after reviewing the ATSDR report. “Merrimack residents are stunned and upset to learn that the ATDSR report puts us in immediate need of assistance,” she wrote. “Many residents have disclosed health struggles that are known to be associated with PFAS exposure. We are officially a community in crisis and need your help urgently.”

The report stated that a number of health problems may be associated with PFAS exposure, including kidney and testicular cancer, colitis, thyroid function and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Friese said the DES is reviewing the ATSDR report and considering action that may include revising the Maximum Contaminant Level standard for PFOAs that is currently 70 ppt, the EPA advisory level.

The ATSDR report is currently in a 30-day comment period that closes July 23 and may be revised according to the comments received. “Our hope is that they’ll complete the report to help us set drinking water standards,” Friese said.

The ATSDR report is the latest federal effort to address the PFAS issue, following the EPA’s Leadership Summit in May and its first community engagement event in Exeter, New Hampshire on June 25-26. The state legislature has also written bills to boost the regulation of PFAS that are awaiting Gov. Sununu’s approval.

The EPA currently has a health advisory of 70 ppt that it may convert to a legal standard.

“We don’t know if the EPA will change the level from 70 ppt, since it’s protective through life, including fetuses during pregnancy,” Friese said. “But we won’t wait for them to complete a MCL. Once HB1101 is signed we’ll issue a new rule which will take effect Jan. 1. We’re waiting for the governor’s signature so we can hire a toxicologist and establish MCL levels for four of the compounds. Science will dictate where that level will go.”

HB1101, the House version of the bill the governor supports, will give the DES the authority to revise the MCL standards for PFAs. It also provides funding for the hiring of toxicologists to research the chemicals to establish MCL levels.

When asked whether the DES may set standards as low as 20 ppt, which Vermont did, Friese said, “Vermont and other states have set lower standards, while many states have advisories, not enforceable standards. We set a legal standard of 70 ppt in 2016 that requires site investigation and immediate action. We got Saint-Gobain to provide bottled water for homes with private wells that exceed the 70 ppt level. They agreed to do that because they knew it was a legal standard, not an advisory.”