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New research shows NH residents are willing to pay around $150 yearly for PFAS remediation

A trickle of water comes out of the faucet.
Steve Helber
The study from the University of New Hampshire suggests treating PFAS house-by-house could be a more affordable solution than municipal treatment.

New research from the University of New Hampshire suggests treating tap water for PFAS contamination household-by-household could provide a more affordable solution than treating water systems as a whole.

A paper from economist Scott Lemos, a senior lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, examined how much residents are willing to pay to filter out potentially harmful PFAS from their water. Those man-made chemicals have been used in a wide variety of consumer products and are linked to negative health effects.

The research comes in the wake of new limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency on allowable levels of some PFAS chemicals in water. That agency says the health benefits of treating for PFAS would outweigh the costs.

Lemos’s team surveyed about 300 people across the state. They found on average, residents are willing to pay a bit more than $150 dollars per year on top of their normal water bill for PFAS remediation, or between $13 and $14 a month.

According to his team’s math, that would add up to much less than the cost of upgrades needed to filter for PFAS across a whole water system.

The researchers compared the revenue from a $150 annual contribution from each person on the water system in an average New Hampshire town of about 11,000 to the cost of upgrading a town water system to treat PFAS.

In that scenario, they found that the 72% of residents on the average town’s water system could contribute about $1.2 million, annually. Researchers used Littleton, Mass. and Barnstable, Mass. as points of comparison. Those two towns spent $16 million and $27 million, respectively, on PFAS treatment remediation.

Treating those chemicals can become an equity and affordability problem since the costs for that equipment and technology are roughly the same, even for smaller towns, Lemos said.

“They're just spreading that across a smaller number of consumers. So those water bills go up substantively,” he said.

Survey respondents who had children in their homes were likely to be willing to pay a higher price for the cost of PFAS removal. People with moderate or major health concerns were also more likely to be willing to pay more.

Residents’ willingness to pay for treatment could increase as people learn more about PFAS chemicals and their potential dangers, Lemos said.

Lemos said the study suggests that filtering PFAS on an individual house level, with filters that are more inexpensive, could be a more affordable way forward.

Filters that treat PFAS for individual faucets cost between $200 and $500, Lemos said, and the cost of installing and maintaining those systems is closer to what people would be willing to pay. Systems that treat water used throughout the house, like in the shower or bathroom sink, run between $5,000 and $10,000.

“What our study is trying to suggest is that maybe big system-wide regulations aren't the way forward, but rather sort of smaller, much more localized house-by-house contamination site-by-contamination site [approach] is a more useful source of regulatory capital,” Lemos said.

He suggested reframing regulations to focus on private wells rather than municipal water systems, targeting homes that are most affected by contamination.

New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services has guidance for private well owners that can help with testing and treatment for PFAS contamination. But the agency’s program to help with the cost of treatment is not accepting applications until further notice as they make rules that govern a new source of funding.

The state has had two high-profile cases of PFAS contamination, one at the former Pease air force base and another at the site of the Saint-Gobain manufacturing plant in Merrimack, which is set to close this year.

People surveyed also said they thought the entities that polluted water with PFAS in the first place should be either solely responsible or partially responsible for the cost of clean-up.

Saint-Gobain has paid for the cost of properties considered affected by their pollution to adopt treatment systems or connect to public water through a consent agreement with state regulators. Companies that manufactured PFAS chemicals are also facing legal obligations to cover costs associated with remediation.

Federal funding for PFAS removal was also included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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