Water Contamination in N.H.

NHPR’s ongoing coverage of water contamination at the former Pease Air Force Base and in the communities surrounding the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant in Merrimack. We’ll keep you updated on day to day developments, and ask bigger questions, such as:

  • What do scientists know about the health effects of perfluorochemicals like PFOA, PFOS and PFHxS?
  • How are policy makers in New Hampshire responding to these water contaminants?
  • How are scientists and policymakers communicating potential risks?
  • How are other states responding to similar contaminations?
Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The Coakley Landfill on New Hampshire’s Seacoast is back in the headlines, more than 30 years after it became a Superfund site.

Neighbors are again worried the site could be poisoning their drinking water, after a rash of childhood cancer cases nearby and the discovery of dangerously high levels of PFAS chemicals at the landfill.

That’s despite local officials' promises that the landfill is safe, under control and not a threat to nearby residents. In fact, they say the landfill is mostly just misunderstood.

The state will require more testing for PFAS chemicals at another former industrial site in Merrimack – the Harcros Chemical site, which is now the town's Watson Park.

PFAS-type chemicals are man-made, don't biodegrade and have been linked to a range of serious health problems. Regulators are investigating their presence at dozens of sites statewide.

FLICKR

At a summit in Exeter last week, residents and EPA officials  met to discuss a class of industrial chemicals known as PFAS. It was the first of several sessions addressing concerns about these toxic substances, which have been linked to cancer, among other health problems.  In New Hampshire, these chemicals have been found at high levels at several sites, including Pease International Tradeport and the Saint Gobain plastics factory in Merrimack, prompting concern among nearby communities. State and Federal officials promised action. 

Joe Shlabotnik/flickr

The state says it wants to propose new limits on certain industrial chemicals in drinking water by the start of next year.

It comes after this week's big regional summit on the chemicals, known collectively as PFAS.

At the meeting, New Hampshire residents called for state and federal agencies to manage PFAS contamination more aggressively.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

New Englanders had a chance to speak out this week about what they want to see in new Environmental Protection Agency rules for industrial chemicals in drinking water – but residents say the proof that they were heard will be in what the regulators do next.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

New Hampshire residents can have their say Monday night about future federal regulations on a class of potentially toxic industrial chemicals called PFAS.

Exeter will host two days of New England-wide public meetings on the issue.

It’s the EPA’s first regional public engagement on its new standards for PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The federal government has published new data about the health risks of industrial chemicals known as PFAS.

The Centers for Disease Control study backs the concerns of some residents in contaminated areas here in New Hampshire, who say federal and state limits on PFAS aren't strict enough.

Many lawmakers, including New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, called for the study’s release after reports that the White House and Environmental Protection Agency had sought to withhold the data.

Sanborn Head

The main landfill serving the Seacoast has gotten state approval for a big expansion, over the objections of some neighbors and environmental groups.

The 1,200-acre Turnkey Landfill in Rochester takes trash from the Seacoast and out of state.

Waste Management told New Hampshire regulators last year it wanted to add about 60 acres to its landfill in order to keep it open through at least 2034.

NHDES

State environmental regulators will ask a North Hampton car wash to change how it disposes of used water, after testing showed high levels of potential toxins.

The investigation comes after two types of contaminants – PFAS and 1,4 dioxane – were found last year in a North Hampton well that served Seacoast residents.

The pollutants were under state limits, but Brendan Kernen of the state’s drinking water protection bureau says the well's operator, Aquarion, shut it off anyway.

NHPR File Photo

Governor Chris Sununu has signaled he’ll sign a pair of energy-related bills approved by legislators at the end of session last week.

One gives lawmakers control of the system benefits charge. That's a small fee on energy bills that helps pay for energy efficiency upgrades for low-income ratepayers.

Legislators also voted to tell utilities to list the costs of complying with renewable energy standards on electric bills.

Sununu says that will help consumers understand what’s behind New Hampshire’s high energy rates, which are some of the highest in the country.

EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency will develop new regulations on certain industrial chemicals in drinking water. The substances, called PFAS, have been a problem on New Hampshire's Seacoast and elsewhere.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said at a summit on PFAS in Washington on Tuesday that they’ll talk about the issue in Portsmouth next month.

New Hampshire environmental regulators joined officials from at least 30 other states and tribes at the summit.

Joe Shlabotnik/flickr

Local water regulators from around the state will be in Concord on Thursday to talk about risks facing New Hampshire's drinking water system.

The state organizes the annual conference, focused on sustaining and protecting the state’s groundwater, with the American Ground Water Trust, a national nonprofit based in Concord.

The group’s executive director, Andrew Stone, says New Hampshire relies more on private or community wells than almost any other state – which makes safeguarding water supplies tricky.

Jim Peaco / NPS

New Hampshire’s U.S. senators are criticizing the Trump administration for reportedly blocking the release of new data about chemicals called PFCs, which have raised contamination concerns in the state.

Emails obtained by Politico reportedly show White House and Environmental Protection Agency officials citing public relations fears in delaying publication of a PFC study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Via PortsmouthWastewater.com

Senator Jeanne Shaheen has announced that the Pease site will be the model test site for a national study examining the health effects of PFAS exposure.

Andrea Amico has dealt first hand with PFAS contamination. Her two children were exposed to the chemicals at a Pease daycare.

Tonight, she's one of several community members who will meet with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to learn about the study.

Annie Ropiek for NHPR

Residents in and around Merrimack are nearing the end of a two-year struggle with contaminated drinking water.

Hundreds of private water wells near the Saint Gobain plastics factory have been contaminated during that time with suspected carcinogens called PFCs

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Some Seacoast residents were unhappy Thursday night to hear state and federal officials reiterate they don’t believe the Coakley Landfill is contaminating area drinking water.

Authorities say some groundwater wells around the Superfund site in North Hampton do show high levels of suspected carcinogens called PFCs – but they say the chemicals haven’t spread to private wells.

Jason Moon for NHPR

The state Fish & Game Department is warning anglers not to eat the fish from a river on the Seacoast. As NHPR's Jason Moon reports, they're citing concerns about chemical contamination.

Each year, Fish & Game stocks Berry's Brook in Rye with several thousand brown trout.

The river begins in Greenland near the Coakley Landfill. That's a superfund site known to have high levels of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, which are suspected carcinogens.

New Hampshire has reached what officials call a “monumental agreement” on water contamination with the Saint Gobain plastics company.

It comes more than two years after the state first learned of the contamination near Manchester, and will require the manufacturer to run clean water to all affected homes.

Saint Gobain notified the state in 2016 that it had released suspected carcinogens called perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, from its Merrimack factory.

The Air Force is announcing new efforts to address water contamination at the former Pease Air Force Base.

Pease is the site of the largest known perfluorochemical contamination in the state. In 2014, a drinking well was closed there after at least 1,800 people were exposed to PFCs at levels far above health advisory limits. Some evidence has linked PFCs to cancer.

Via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/7MMKBg

Merrimack residents will vote this month on giving the town control of their water utility.

It comes after two years of struggle with contamination in local wells, likely stemming from local plastics-maker Saint Gobain.

Laurene Allen co-founded Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water, and says the local public water company's board hasn't been transparent about its dealings with the polluter.

Via USGS.gov

A bill that would force the cleanup of a hazardous landfill on the Seacoast hit a stumbling block in a House committee Tuesday.

The bill would require the groups that dumped hazardous waste at the Coakley Landfill in Greenland in the 70s and 80s to start cleaning it up.

Annie Ropeik for NHPR

State officials say they're close to finalizing a deal that would bring clean water to Bedford residents whose wells have been contaminated with toxic chemicals called PFCs since 2016.

The contamination likely came from air emissions at the nearby Saint Gobain Plastics Plant. Since then, many residents have been drinking bottled water as they wait for Saint Gobain to pay to connect them to Manchester's water system.

John K via Flickr CC

A state lawmaker wants entities that cause pollution in New Hampshire to pay in to the state's general fund as part of the cleanup.

Pixabay

Legislators are considering sharply lowering how much arsenic New Hampshire allows in drinking water – but regulators said in a committee hearing Wednesday it'd be easier said than done.

Right now, New Hampshire uses the federal arsenic limit of 10 parts per billion in drinking water.

Via USGS.gov

Lawmakers will consider at least a dozen bills about water contamination and other environmental hazards when they return to session in January.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported that elevated PFCs were found in the Franklin Fire Department's drinking water. The chemicals were actually detected in a monitoring well at the department.

At least four New Hampshire fire departments have found an elevated level of toxic chemicals known as PFCs, either in their drinking water or in nearby monitoring wells.

The state has asked New Hampshire fire departments that use private wells to test their drinking water for a toxic chemical.

Any positive results could lead to more investigation of residential wells nearby. (Scroll down to read the letter sent to fire departments in October.)

The Department of Environmental Services wants fire stations to test for perflourinated chemicals, or PFCs. They're found in lots of man-made stuff, they don't break down, and some studies have linked them to cancer and other health problems.

Jason Moon for NHPR

State and federal environmental officials held a meeting in North Hampton Wednesday night to update residents on efforts to address contamination at the former Coakley landfill site.

For three hours, scientists with the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Services laid out the work that has been done and that will be done to monitor and address contaminated water at a former landfill on the Seacoast.

Ceyhun (Jay) Isik / Flickr Creative Commons

A Senate advisory commission next month will choose to fund several major projects improving drinking water across New Hampshire communities.

More than $200 million from a settlement with Exxon-Mobil over MTBE contamination has been set aside for funding these projects.

Robert Scott is the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services. He’s also on the Drinking Water and Groundwater Advisory Commission. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with him about issues with drinking water in the state.


NH Department of Health and Human Services

State health officials say residents on public water in Merrimack and Bedford have been exposed to perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, at rates higher than the general population, but lower than in some other exposed communities.

Blood tests from more than 200 residents in the two towns found levels of the chemical known as PFOA were roughly double what's found in the general population.

The contamination is thought to have come from a nearby Saint-Gobain performance plastics plant.

Pages