CONCORD — A legislative rules panel embraced the nation’s toughest restrictions on PFAS chemicals in drinking water to the delight of environmentalists and the concern of business and municipal leaders who said they worried these new limits were too low and too quickly adopted.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) Thursday endorsed recommendations setting maximum limits on four polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) ranging from 11 to 18 parts per trillion.
That’s well below the federal standard of 70 parts per trillion.
The Department of Environmental Services had submitted this proposal late last month.
Mindi Messmer of Rye is a former Democratic state legislator from Rye who helped found the Safe Water Alliance of New Hampshire and spent more than the past year fighting for this outcome.
She said setting these maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) underlined that citizens across the state were responding to this threat and were demanding action from policymakers.
“N.H. leads as JLCAR passes strictest MCLs in the nation!!!” Messmer tweeted after the rules panel vote. “Thank you all the advocates who lent their name, words & passion to this issue!”
The new rules are scheduled to take effect Oct. 1.
But the president of the Business and Industry Association said his group had wanted lawmakers to hold off on taking this action.
“We’re disappointed JLCAR did not postpone this agenda item to provide stakeholders an opportunity to assess the new MCLs. The final proposed MCLs, released less than three weeks ago, left little time or opportunity for interested parties to properly examine and comment on the effects of the new MCLs. The final proposed MCLs are between 50% and 80% lower than those initially discussed. Such a significant difference between the original proposed MCLs and final MCLs should have led JLCAR to give stakeholders extra time needed to fully understand the new MCL standards including the science and assumptions used to arrive at these new, much lower levels,” James Roche said.
“We were also disappointed JLCAR voted to approve the rules without hearing any testimony from the many stakeholders who were ready and waiting to speak on the final proposed MCLs, including BIA. By refusing to hear testimony, JLCAR short-circuited stakeholders’ input from consideration on the final proposal.”
The BIA wanted a delay until August and Roche said DES in the meantime should have done a cost/benefit analysis to justify its recommendations.
The New Hampshire Municipal Association had raised “cost concerns” about these new standards that all 1,700 public water system facilities must now meet.
“They will be passing on these high costs in the form of increased property taxes,” NHMA spokesperson Margaret Byrnes said after the vote.
The mandate applies to any water systems that serve at least the same 25 people six months of the year and NHMA estimates the total cost could exceed $190 million.
Towns will have to primarily count on a state loan and grant program to help pay for any needed upgrades. The recently-vetoed state budget had contained a $6 million increase in this program.
DES Assistant Commissioner Clark Freise said the agency will work with legislators next year to identify other financial options to comply with these new limits.