Bill pushing tougher PFOA standards advances
CONCORD — State Rep. Mindi Messmer, D-Rye, ran for office in the fall with the goal of influencing state policy on water-borne toxins, particularly perfluorinated chemicals like PFOA that have contaminated so many New Hampshire wells.
On Tuesday, she won a small victory as the five-member Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously to endorse a House bill that calls for a review by the Department of Environmental Services of the allowable limits on PFOA and PFOS contamination, with an eye toward adopting limits lower than federal standards.
The federal maximum contaminant limit for PFCs is 70 parts per trillion, but other states have adopted much lower standards on their own, such as Vermont (20 ppt) and New Jersey (14 ppt).
The amendment, attached to HB 463, now goes to the full Senate with a strong recommendation for passage.
The House will eventually have to concur with the Senate amendment before the bill goes to the governor's desk.
Although Messmer had hoped to see lower standards for perfluorinated chemicals implemented sooner, she left the Senate committee room on Tuesday morning happy with her progress so far.
If the bill as amended becomes law, the DES will have 120 days to initiate a rule-making process to adopt new contaminant standards for PFCs that "reasonably protect public health, particularly pre-natal and early childhood health."
"It has some good things, including an annual review of the standards, so that as new science comes in they can reevaluate those standards, and a rule-making process that allows public input, so we can make sure they are being protective of prenatal and early childhood health," said Messmer.
She originally sponsored a bill, HB 485, that called on New Hampshire to set the standard at the Vermont level, but that was held up by the Finance Committee in the House after DES personnel raised concerns over the possible costs to cities and towns to implement such a stringent drinking-water standard.
DES Assistant Commissioner Clark Freise said the department is comfortable with the amendment approved on Tuesday.
"We would love to have the ability to set the appropriate health standard for every chemical," he said. "There were some concerns as the bill was originally written. The financial impact to the municipalities weren't fully understood."
One important aspect of the legislation, according to Messmer, is that studies by the DES will have to take into account the impact of contamination on pre-natal development and infants, and not use a 170-pound male as the basis for the studies, which is how the EPA arrives at 70 ppt.
Sen. Jeb Bradley spoke to that point as he introduced the amendment for the committee vote.
"This represents a reasonable way forward and does what the sponsors of the bill want to do, which is protect the public health and better protect against the threat of PFOAs," he said. "We heard a lot of testimony that young New Hampshire citizens are particularly vulnerable."
PFC pollution has emerged as a widespread threat to water quality in southern New Hampshire in the past two years, with nearly 400 homes in Litchfield, Bedford and Merrimack affected.
High levels of PFCs also caused the closing of the Haven drinking water supply well located at the former Pease Air Force Base.