CONCORD — Citizen groups and lawmakers lobbied Tuesday for legislation to give victims more time to sue for damages caused by perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFOAs).
The measure (HB 236) would make New Hampshire one of the first states in the country to create a statute of limitations that would be twice as long for PFOA contamination than for other environmental damages.
Lawmakers in Maine and Michigan have been considering the same reform.
Under current New Hampshire law, suits must be filed within three years of the release of the contamination. This bill would raise it to six years and the new clock wouldn’t start until the victim “discovered” they had suffered damages.
“This bill allows science to catch up with the situation,” said former Rep. Wendy Thomas, a Merrimack Democrat who first proposed the change last year when she was in the House.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, some of the same officials supported a companion bill (HB 135) that would give a state agency head more power to make polluters immediately responsible for any contamination of drinking water supplies.
“When a business comes into the state and they pollute, they should be held liable for any damages that they do,” said Rep. Rich Lascellas, R-Litchfield, one of the bill’s sponsors.
This bill would require a polluter to pay to connect a homeowner with a contaminated well to the nearest public water system. If that wasn’t done within six months, the company would have to pay for a “whole house” system to filter all water to eliminate contaminants.
The company would also have to pay the homeowner the cost of five years of water bills.
Due process concern
State officials said Saint-Gobain of Merrimack has paid “tens of millions” to provide bottled water and extend water lines to replace contaminated wells at homes in Merrimack, Litchfield, Bedford and Londonderry.
Laurene Allen with Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water said more than 1,000 homeowners are still waiting for a permanent replacement system.
“Many are still receiving bottled water after five years with no end in sight as to when they are going to receive some remediation,” said Merrimack Town Councilor Barbara Healey said. “Timely action needs to happen so that clean water comes out of their faucets is clean and drinkable.”
But David Creer, director of policy for the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire, said the bill strips a company of due process by permitting the Department of Environmental Services to issue a cleanup order without review.
The DES took no position on the bill, but Mike Wimsatt, director of the Division of Waste Management, said some provisions raise concerns:
The six-month limit is too short, he said, and making a company pay five years of water bills could cause many smaller polluters to try to evade responsibility.
And sometimes, it’s not feasible to extend public water to replace a contaminated well at a cost of $1 million per mile, he said.
“We are concerned this is simply too big an ask; we understand where this bill is coming from,” Wimsatt said.
In 2021, the Legislature is considering a raft of legislation dealing with the PFOA topic, including one to require Saint-Gobain to pay all remediation costs for those who are in the Merrimack Village Water District. (HB 478).