August 25. 2018 9:26AM

Top NH Democrats invite feds to investigate Merrimack water for PFAS contamination

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent


 (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent file photo)

MERRIMACK — The New Hampshire congressional delegation is asking a federal agency to investigate the depth of exposure to a class of chemicals called perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) in southern New Hampshire.

U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, along with Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster, signed the letter to Patrick Breysse, director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which explains that community assistance panels have been useful in other places with PFAS contamination, specifically the former Pease Air Force Base.

“We request that this work be expanded to include a more in-depth evaluation of community exposure, including biological monitoring of community members and an assessment of adverse health outcomes and health trends,” the letter says.

“In addition, we would also request that ATSDR assess the feasibility of convening a Community Assistance Panel or similar community engagement forum for the Merrimack area.”

The letter comes days after it was revealed that a monitoring well on a parcel owned by the John J. Flatley Co., next door to the Saint-Gobain Merrimack facility, indicates the presence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a kind of PFAS, in groundwater at concentrations up to 19,000 parts per trillion.

That is the highest concentration detected so far in groundwater around the Merrimack plant where high levels of PFOA were discovered in its faucets two years ago.

PFAS were developed in the 1940s. The Environmental Protection Agency says that studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological problems in laboratory animals.

Saint-Gobain has already paid at least $14 million in remedial work in southern New Hampshire since the water contamination was discovered.

The company, however, would not pay to have water filtration systems installed in Merrimack schools. PFOA levels at the schools range up to 20 parts per trillion; the state standard for PFOA is 70 parts per trillion.

Still, voters approved $128,000 to install central filtration systems at the schools that will treat certain faucets and water fountains.

Matt Shevenell, Merrimack assistant superintendent of schools, said this week that the water filtration system tanks are now present at each of Merrimack’s schools. Indoor plumbing work is ongoing to connect the main lines to the tanks.

“It will get done before the beginning of school,” he reassured the School Board.

NashuaNews@unionleader.com