Lawmakers' frustration aired over water contamination bill
MERRIMACK — Frustration is being voiced after a bill designed to help regulate airborne contaminants in New Hampshire drinking water did not move forward.
The amended bill, HB 463, which would have required the state to consider tougher standards for acceptable limits of perfluorinated chemicals like perfluorooctanoic acid in drinking water, died Thursday in Concord as a House and Senate conference committee could not agree.
State Rep. Frank Byron, R-Litchfield, was the prime sponsor of the bill. He said it was designed to do one thing — fill a hole in state laws that would address pollution-emitting devices such as smokestacks.
Litchfield, Merrimack, Bedford and Amherst residences have been struggling with PFOA contamination in their water after Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics allegedly released the chemical out of its smokestack.
“We have never seen that type of pathway of contamination before,” said Byron, adding the original bill was brought forward by him at the request of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services as a measure to regulate this new pathway of groundwater contamination.
The Senate amended the bill in May, calling for a Department of Environmental Services investigation to look at the effect of PFC contamination on prenatal and early childhood health.
“This would be a change in the methodology that the state uses to set its limits for any contaminant,” said Byron, acknowledging that he was frustrated with the amendment being attached to the bill.
Byron said DES believes it still has the authority to address this new pathway of contamination, and that the state is still protected. However, Byron said it would have been beneficial to explicitly indicate this authority in state law.
“I think it is important we protect the health and wellbeing of everyone in the state, but we need to give those experts the authority and the ability to take a reasonable look at the scientific knowledge,” he said.
State Rep. Mindi Messmer, D-Rye, said in an online statement that she was disappointed the amended bill died, but said she will not stop fighting.
“We are not done though. More to come,” she said.
Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said in a separate statement that he is “very disappointed House Republicans rejected drinking water standards that protect the public health, particularly prenatal and early childhood health.”
Last week, state Rep. Chris Christensen of Merrimack said during a committee meeting that DES already has authority to regulate smokestacks that emit something that results in groundwater contamination. He questioned the need for the proposed legislation.
According to the bill, it would have required DES to establish a drinking water standard and ambient groundwater quality standard for PFOA and perfluorooctanesulfonate within 120 days.
“No drinking water standard (maximum contaminant level) for PFOS or PFOA currently exists. However, there is an ambient groundwater quality standard at 70 parts per trillion for combined PFOA and PFOS consistent with EPA’s health advisory standards,” states the bill.
If the bill were adopted and the department determined a lower standard was appropriate, the bill would have resulted in the establishment of a drinking water maximum contaminant level and revised the existing ambient groundwater quality standard.
A preliminary analysis to lower the standards to 20 parts per trillion, the number used in Vermont, would have cost more than $40 million, according to the proposed legislation.