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PFOA: Residents confused by latest testing results, saying, 'We are not scientists'

Union Leader Correspondent

October 10. 2017 8:29PM
Dozens of Merrimack residents attend a public meeting Tuesday to discuss ongoing water contamination problems. (Kimberly Houghton/Correspondent)

MERRIMACK — Residents say they are concerned and confused by newly released blood test results that indicate a sampling of public water customers have levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) twice those of the average U.S. population.

A total of 217 Merrimack Village Water District customers representing 132 households had their blood tested as part of the MVD Community Exposure Assessment. The data was made public Tuesday during a hearing in Merrimack.

“The long-term health effects are unclear,” Dr. Benjamin Chan, New Hampshire state epidemiologist, acknowledged during the meeting.

On average, the MVD customers had about 3.9 micrograms per liter of PFOA contamination in their blood serum; the average amount of PFOA found in the blood supply of the general U.S. population ranges from 1.9 to 2.2 micrograms per liter, according to data collected from 2011 to 2014.

In comparison, residents in southern New Hampshire with private wells who have had their blood recently tested had an average of 4.4 micrograms per liter of PFOA contamination in their blood serum — slightly higher than the MVD customers.

“This really is way too complicated to understand,” Michael Oleniak said at Tuesday’s hearing. “We are not scientists.”

Oleniak and his wife, Elaine, have lived in the same Merrimack home for 42 years, and have used MVD water for that same time period. Both of them participated in the voluntary blood testing.

While Elaine Oleniak’s data revealed 7.19 micrograms per liter of PFOA, her husband’s data showed 11.5 micrograms.

“It seems to be really difficult to understand, and they really can’t tell you if you should be concerned with this range,” Michael Oleniak said. “It is so vague.”

The MVD public water system is supplied by multiple wells that are combined prior to delivery of residential drinking water. MVD water supply wells are monitored for contamination and are currently below the Environmental Protection Agency’s PFOA health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). However, two supply wells were taken offline in June 2016 when they tested above 70 ppt.

According to Clark Freise, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services assistant commissioner, the MVD public wells are averaging about 16 ppt of PFOA for 2017, but have reached up to 25 ppt — still below the health advisory level.

“This is the largest contamination area we have dealt with,” Freise said of the southern New Hampshire region.

Christina Sullivan is one of the MVD water customers who just received her family’s blood test results.

Her results showed a level of PFOA in her bloodstream at 3.56 micrograms per liter. However, her 4-year-old daughter’s PFOA level was significantly higher at 12.6, which is also higher than the 95th percentile average of 5.68.

The Sullivans live about a half-mile from Reeds Ferry Elementary School in Merrimack.

According to the MVD blood tests, PFOA serum concentrations ranged from less than 3 microgram per liter to more than 7. It also indicates that the PFOA presence increases with age, increases based on the amount of water consumed daily and increases among households within 1.5 miles of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, deemed the likely source of the contamination.

A summary of the MVD results compared to PFC blood levels at other exposure sites can be viewed below:

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