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N.H. Proposes Lower Or Same Drinking Water Limits On 4 PFAS Chemicals


The state has released its plans for new limits on four types of likely harmful PFAS chemicals in public water systems.

The new regulations would apply to four of the thousands of known PFAS chemicals.

They were once widely used to manufacture firefighting foams and protective coatings on everything from furniture, carpets and clothing to cookware and food packaging. 

If approved, the standards would require the state's public water systems – those serving the same 25 or more people at least 60 days a year – to test and treat for the chemicals below set limits.

Those proposed limits are all the same as or lower than what the state has in place now.

Currently, the Department of Environmental Services uses a groundwater cleanup standard of 70 parts per trillion – individually or combined – for chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA.

That standard was based on a 2016 federal health advisory. Several states have since adopted similar or more stringent versions of that rule.

New Hampshire’s new proposed drinking water limit for PFOS is 38 ppt. For PFOA and for the two chemicals in combination, the proposed limit remains at 70 ppt.

The other two chemicals included in the proposals are currently unregulated in nearly all states. Regulators are seeking a limit of 23 ppt on PFNA, and 85 ppt on PFHxS.

All in all, the proposals are not as strict as some activists had hoped they’d be.

During planning for the new rules, those advocates – including scientists and residents from contaminated areas – urged regulators to be as protective as possible.

They pointed to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, which said PFAS chemicals may be harmful to human health in comparatively minuscule amounts – 11 ppt for PFOA and PFNA, 7 ppt for PFOS and 75 ppt for PFHxS.

But in their comments, industry groups urged the state to account for costs and consider less stringent scientific claims.

State officials have said the new drinking water limits would have to balance public health concerns with the expense and limitations of available treatment technology.

A full report on the methodology behind the limits is due out in the coming days. The proposals will then undergo public hearings this spring before going up for legislative approval.

If that approval is granted, New Hampshire would join just a handful of states that require PFAS testing and treatment in public water systems.

The EPA had also planned to issue a “national management plan” for PFAS, designed to help states coordinate their rules and research, by the end of 2018.

As of Wednesday, amid the ongoing government shutdown, that plan was still listed as pending on the EPA’s website.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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