A White House announcement that “forever chemicals” will face set limits is an important step, but advocates and federal officials said much more must be done to protect New Hampshire’s public drinking water supply.
“While this plan is a great start, it does not stop the source of our contamination and does not protect our environment and families from additional PFAS impacts,” Laurene Allen of Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water said.
The Biden administration said Monday the Environmental Protection Agency will put limits on certain polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, for the first time. Scientists have associated the substances with illnesses such as kidney cancer.
The EPA expects by next year to issue restrictions on PFAS discharges from industrial sources by establishing technology-based limits on the chemicals, the agency said in a separate document.
The EPA released a three-year plan on other actions to help prevent PFAS from being released into the air and food supply and to expand cleanup efforts.
“Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
Allen said while the announcement by the EPA lays a foundation for a path forward, it is “woefully inadequate for Southern NH as it will not stop the source of our contamination.”
“Merrimack is the epicenter for PFAS contamination, where industry air emissions and discharges to waterways going unchecked for many years has led to the contamination of drinking water for over 200,000 residents in at least six communities,” Allen said.
New Hampshire has set maximum contamination levels for four PFAS compounds that have toxicological determinations from the CDC, Allen said, and the EPA has committed to regulating only two of them, PFOA and PFOS.
“We do not know at which level these will be considered hazardous substances; this will not happen until late 2023 and we continue to be exposed daily to an entire panel of PFAS via air, soil, water and our local food chain,” said Allen.
She said there were no actions planned to stop the air emissions of toxic PFAS, and that the limits to discharging into waterways will apply only to some industries known to use PFAS.
Merrimack became ground zero for PFAS after contamination from the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant in town was found to have polluted hundreds of private wells.
Residents in Bedford, Londonderry, Litchfield and several Seacoast towns have also dealt with PFAS contamination.
The Merrimack Village District water utility is suing French manufacturing giant Saint-Gobain and two local manufacturers over groundwater polluted with “forever chemicals,” which the water utility alleges was a result of the companies’ manufacturing practices even after they knew the chemicals were harmful.
The Merrimack Village District’s suit was filed last month in Hillsborough County Superior Court, and names Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics as a defendant, along with Textiles Coated International of Londonderry and DiaCom Corporation of Amherst.
The suit alleges the companies discharged PFAS into the local environment, where the chemicals contaminated the Merrimack Village District’s groundwater supply wells.
PFAS has been used for decades in household products such as non-stick cookware, stain- and water-resistant textiles, rugs, food packaging, photo imaging, and in industrial products. Many states have outlawed their use in food packaging.
A bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress is debating contains $10 billion in grants to address contaminants including PFAS through state revolving funds and disadvantaged community programs. A wider spending bill also includes investments for the EPA to conduct monitoring for PFAS compounds in drinking water.
“From laying out aggressive timelines to set enforceable drinking water limits to strengthening EPA’s ability to hold polluters accountable, the Strategic Roadmap represents a significant step forward in the fight to address exposure to these toxic chemicals,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, in a statement. “While I’m pleased with this news, more must be done.”
“Hazardous PFAS chemicals can be found everywhere, from the water we drink to firefighters’ equipment,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH. “We need to take aggressive action to combat these toxins — today’s actions are a step forward, and I will keep working to combat PFAS contamination.”
“The EPA’s announcement today is an important step toward holding polluters accountable for cleaning up PFAS contamination,” said U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH.
“It is welcome news that the EPA has announced they will accelerate their efforts to establish nationwide drinking water standards for PFAS, address industrial discharges of PFAS, and establish a national testing strategy,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-NH. “While these are important steps forward, I continue to urge the EPA to issue regulations on the use of PFAS for known industries that are actively discharging these forever chemicals.
Wire service reports were used in this story.