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Merrimack vying for spot in PFAS study

By Grace Pecci - Staff Writer | Jun 7, 2019

MERRIMACK — Southern New Hampshire continues battling PFAS, as the hazardous chemicals have now been identified in amounts more than four times the limit regulators consider safe at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Sylvester Superfund site in Nashua.

Just up the road in Merrimack, residents have been dealing with the material, more formally known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, since officials identified it near the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility a few years ago. The EPA states that health effects associated with exposure to PFAS can include low infant birth weights, immune system problems and even cancer.

In this light, Merrimack residents are looking for answers. Some of those answers, they hope, may come from a national PFAS study, should they be chosen as a participant.

PFAS can be found in multiple areas such as commercial household products, in workplaces such as production facilities or industries, in drinking water and in living organisms. The substances are associated with plastic, polishes, waxes and firefighting foams.

The Telegraph reported that the state found PFAS in groundwater wells, and in the wells that supply water for Merrimack’s water system starting in 2016. Some wells were shut down after testing over the state’s regulatory limit of 70 parts per trillion for PFAS. Contamination has been found in Litchfield, Bedford, and other communities.

Recently, Merrimack’s town council conducted a special meeting to approve a letter of support for Boston University’s Research Proposal, titled “Health Implications of Exposure to PFAS-Contaminated Drinking Water in the Merrimack, NH Area.”

The support letter endorses Boston University’s School of Public Health to study the effects of PFAS -contaminated water in Merrimack, if they are able to secure a national grant from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency of Toxic and Substance Registry.

Last month, during the public comment section of Merrimack’s Town Council, Laurene Allen with Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water brought information regarding this study. Boston University will be applying for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency of Toxic and Substance Registry national grants. If selected, Merrimack will become one of six chosen communities to participate in the study.

Allen put it quite simply during a recent town council special meeting: “The goal of this grant is to take six sites across the country and put all the data together and get some answers.”

If selected, local families, children and adults will be recruited to take part in the study. Boston University will collect urine and blood samples from 350 children and 1,000 adults to analyze levels of exposure and any health issues.

Cancers will not be included in the potential study because they are very hard to quantify the “why,” Allen said. However, she noted, they have “fabulous” data with air deposition modeling, groundwater testings and private well testings.

They will look at anything from cholesterol to immune functioning, to neuropsychological to even ADHD and Aspergers traits, based on CDC’s science.

Allen said the CDC has research that associates the class of chemicals with certain disorders, adding that they are seeking to look at the “gamut.” She said the study will look at not just the sites that have higher numbers of exposure than Merrimack, but a whole range of different exposures.

Allen said her group has the support of both the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

“I think the strength here, which is really wonderful, is we have a community where a lot of people have been really involved, and as everybody knows it has been quite a process,” Allen said.

Officials hope to include impacted Litchfield and Bedford areas in the study as well, if chosen.

Grace Pecci may be reached at 594-1243, or at gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.

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