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0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8f4d0000NHPR’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?

Activists Petition State For Stricter PFAS Chemical Limits As Public Comment Closes

Annie Ropeik for NHPR
Drinking water activist Mindi Messmer delivers a petition, calling for stricter PFAS standards, to the state Department of Environmental Services offices in Portsmouth Friday.

Public comment closes today on New Hampshire’s proposed limits for four types of toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

The Department of Environmental Services has suggested recent science from Minnesota could lead to stricter standards for testing and treatment of PFAS at public water systems.

Some federal research suggests the state’s proposed standards for PFAS – a large class of industrial chemicals once used in products like Teflon – could still cause human health risks. And drinking water advocates, including former state Rep. Mindi Messmer, want officials to heed that science and tighten the proposals before they're finalized this summer.

The current proposals are: 70 parts per trillion for PFOA, or for PFOA and PFOS combined; 38 ppt for PFOA alone; 85 ppt for PFHxS; and 23 ppt for PFNA.

Based on the new research from Minnesota, which the state says it’s also reviewing, Messmer says the standards should instead be no higher than: 3 ppt for PFOA; 13 ppt for PFOS; 30 ppt for PFHxS; and 1 ppt for PFNA.

Messmer led a group of environmental activists to deliver a petition with more than a thousand signatures at the DES offices in Portsmouth Friday.

“Now it’s time for our state to stop protecting the financial interests of polluters and start protecting us from the chemicals in the water,” Messmer said. “We have paid our price.”

She was joined by residents from towns like Merrimack, where drinking water wells were contaminated with PFAS from a local factory.

McKenzie Murphy, daughter of first-term state Rep. Nancy Murphy, says since then, her family has experienced health problems that some studies have linked to PFAS.

"Though this is not proof of harm, it is certainly concerning,” Murphy said. “At the age of just 21 years old, I shouldn't need to grow up and be concerned about what toxins are in my environment."

Some business and municipal advocates have cautioned against more conservative PFAS standards, saying they’ll cost too much for industrial water users and public water systems.

The state has estimated it would cost between $2.2 million and $8 million up front for public water systems to comply with the current proposals. New Hampshire hopes to finalize its rules this summer. Once it does so, it will be one of only a handful of states with their own drinking water rules for PFAS.

The EPA is working on its own standards and other PFAS-related reforms due out in the coming years.

Activists and some public health officials have argued that ultimately, state and federal governments should regulate all PFAS chemicals together, as a class.

If that happens, New Hampshire water advocates say the drinking water limit on all PFAS should be just 1 part per trillion – roughly equal to a single drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

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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