PORTSMOUTH — Officials turned out on Friday morning to raise awareness about the work that is being done to protect Granite Staters from per- and polyfluoroalkyl pollution and to slam what they called “Toxic Trump’s inaction” on water contamination issues.
“This is not just a local issue; it’s not just a state issue. It’s turning into a national issue of great concern,” State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, said during a press conference arranged by the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
“We need to make this a top priority,” Fuller Clark said.
Fuller Clark and State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, introduced two pieces of legislation in the state Senate last week to allocate funds from the PFAS polluter lawsuit to aid communities and set strict state standards for contamination.
Sherman said he expects New Hampshire will see lower state PFAS standards soon through his amended Senate Bill 287, but he said federal changes are still needed before a difference can truly be made on the Seacoast.
Sherman said a majority of the communities in the Portsmouth area have been affected by PFAS contamination on the former Air Force Base at Pease or by contamination that seeped into water sources from Coakley Landfill, a Superfund site in North Hampton that accepted waste from the Air Force Base when it was in operation.
“We just don’t have jurisdiction as a state over those sites. The federal legislation is very critical to those sites,” Sherman said.
The Democratic state senators said there has been a bipartisan approach to addressing PFAS contamination in New Hampshire, but that President Donald Trump’s administration is making it difficult to move forward.
On Jan. 7, the White House sent out a statement that the administration “strongly opposes” passage of the federal PFAS Action Act of 2019, saying the legislation would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue certain regulations related to the contaminants; the statement said this process would create “considerable litigation risk, set problematic and unreasonable rulemaking timelines and precedents, and impose substantial, unwarranted costs on federal, state, and local agencies and other key stakeholders in both the public and private sectors.”
Last week, Trump’s administration decided to move forward with plans to roll back EPA regulations that protect New England streams and wetlands.
Fuller Clark said that might help real estate developers in the short term but would hurt the state long term when more pollutants are dumped into the fragile ecosystems that create streams and wetlands.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has spoken up about the rollback on stream and wetland protections, calling the action “reckless” and a “direct threat to water quality in New Hampshire.”
“Considering the substantial water contamination challenges New Hampshire already faces, it’s absolutely reckless of the Trump administration to be overruling hard science and siding with special interests to roll back these important wetland regulations. Allowing at-will dumping of pollutants into New Hampshire’s valuable wetlands without even requiring a permit is a direct threat to water quality in our state,” Shaheen said in a statement.
PFAS, and protecting water from these contaminants, is an issue that has caught the attention of Democratic presidential candidates and they are talking about it.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., was stumping for presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren in New Hampshire. He held community conversations about PFAS and other chemical contamination in Portsmouth and Merrimack, which is considered ground zero for the issue.
Warren issued a statement on the request of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
“The New Hampshire congressional delegation is leading on this issue and I’ve been working with them to get the EPA to declare a federal maximum contaminant level and nationwide safe drinking water standards for PFAS,” Warren said.
“We need to hold polluters accountable for putting toxic ‘forever chemicals’ like PFAS in our waterways. In a staggering conflict of interest, President Trump has filled the EPA with officials who used to represent the very same polluters. This is corruption, and it’s unacceptable,” Warren said.
People who worked, attended school or were enrolled in daycare at facilities on Pease International Tradeport between 2004 and May of 2014, as well as people who lived in Newington from 2004 until the present and used a private well with documented PFAS contamination, are encouraged to take part in a public health study being conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
People who are concerned about water contamination can find out more about proposed legislation and what they can do through the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance group at https://tinyurl.com/wbhw648.