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Bedford Residents Still Waiting for Public Water

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Bedford lawmakers are urging Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to connect properties with contaminated wells to a municipal water system.

Bedford residents are still using bottled water 18 months after finding out their private wells are contaminated with PFOA.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services requested Saint-Gobain put in place a public water treatment system for the affected properties in April 2016.

Residents expected to be hooked up to public water months ago, and say relying on bottled is about to become even more difficult with winter approaching.

NHPR’s Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Assistant Majority Whip Terry Wolf. She was one of three lawmakers who wrote a letter to Saint-Gobain’s director of health and safety.

What's it been like for Bedford residents after finding out their water well is contaminated? And what it’s been like for the last several months having to go through this?

Well for one I think obviously PFOA is an emerging contaminant. We're not sure exactly what the long term effects are, but people have been really, really worried and they're hoping for a resolution on this issue. And they had been hoping for resolution or an answer in the middle of August, and they were told that they have to wait until September, which puts the whole issue off possibly even six to eight more months.

What prompted you and the other Bedford lawmakers to write this letter?

Well I think that on that August date the town officials and the residents had really hoped that there would be a resolution, and they were stunned that they said well now you have to wait. St. Cobain has a meeting with their board in Paris on Sept. 22. And it just seems like it's you know kicking the can down the road for quite a long time.

Are they feeling stuck because the company seems to be kind of dragging their heels on this?

Well there are a couple of different options for hooking up to the municipal water supply and the lowest cost option is Merrimack Valley Water District. And they need a pumping station to be able to do that. So Saint-Gobain is looking for land to place the pumping station. And at this point they can't find a location for it.

It’s not just a case of extending lines.

Right. So with that particular option, correct. And so that is partly been some of the drag recently is trying to find a location for that. Now the residents in the affected areas would like to be hooked up to Manchester Water Works, and there's two different options that are on the table right now.

What are those options?

There's two different areas. One is Liberty Hill Road, which is a major artery in Bedford. The town has offered—they're planning to reconstruct that road already. So there's some offset costs for Saint-Gobain if they do go ahead with that route because it's already going to be churned up. And so they can take, you know, kind of leverage that as something that we're already doing. And then Back River Road is another option. And so those are the two that are the preferred water source for those residents.

In your opinion why do you think there has been a delay in connecting residents to public water in general? Is there a worry that on Saint-Gobain’s part, you think, of an admission of responsibility here?

You know that's definitely some of the conversation that's been going on for this. We have a couple of different areas of homes for the 61. They have you know recognized that this is their responsibility. There is a group of another 32 houses that right now is kind of tentative. They're not sure whether they're responsible for or not and that's up in the air. And you know it's kind of hard to understand why this has taken 18 months when people had hoped that it would be resolved in six to eight months.

Would these options cover all of the 100 plus homes that would be affected? Or is there still some kind of debate about how many total will be will be covered?

There are negotiations going on with the DES (Department of Environmental Services) right now and Saint-Gobain about that 32 that might be there. I'm getting the sense that they're leaning towards it and then it looks like everybody should be covered.

Are there fears that other homes will be found to have contaminated wells?

That's always a fear. This is an emerging issue in New Hampshire. There's pockets all over this state. So I think that this is going to be something that we'll be looking at for a long time

What do you expect the response will be once Saint-Gobain does have this this next meeting?

Well our hopes is that they're going to come back and say we're going to move forward with the option that is preferred by the residents, and we're going to get this done. The reality is it's probably going to take a while. No matter what it is, we have to get things out to bid construction needs to be mobilized. And then we live in New Hampshire, and who knows when will when winter will start and if construction will have to be put on hold.

So a best case scenario this probably will not be resolved until sometime next year?

And that is where the big source of frustration is coming for these people. Just the logistics of the daily not being able to brush your teeth, not being able to have a garden, lugging around cases of water within their homes. They have to be stored in an area that they won't freeze in. The practical things just wear people down on a day to day basis.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR. She manages the station's news magazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can email her at mmcintyre@nhpr.org.

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