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The EPA has a new plan for PFAS chemicals. But a New Hampshire advocate says there’s more to do.

The regenerative thermal oxidizer will burn PFAS chemicals from Saint-Gobain's air emissions in Merrimack. It replaces the factory's old smokestacks, like the one seen at far top left.
Annie Ropeik
The regenerative thermal oxidizer will burn PFAS chemicals from Saint-Gobain's air emissions in Merrimack. It replaces the factory's old smokestacks, like the one seen at far top left.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new plan for handling contamination by PFAS, a group of harmful chemicals that some communities in New Hampshire have been exposed to for years.

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But Laurene Allen, a co-founder of the advocacy group Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water, said the EPA’s plan is a good start, but more is needed to keep communities safe.

“We really need the exposure to stop and the contamination to stop,” Allen said.

Allen's group began organizing around issues of PFAS contamination in 2016. PFAS chemicals have been used in manufacturing since 1940. They can be found in groundwater, soil, and air across the country.

Studies show PFAS may lead to harmful health effects including increased risk of cancer, reproductive effects, and developmental delays, and the substances have been found in the blood of humans and animals.

"What we really needed from the EPA is some commitment that industry, all industry, will not be allowed to emit and discharge any PFAS, period, end of conversation,” Allen said.

In early October, New Hampshire leaders called for federal action on the harmful chemicals in a roundtable discussion with EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

In New Hampshire, PFAS has been found in sites across the state, including at the Coakley Landfill Superfund site and the formerPease Air Force Base Superfund site. The Pease Tradeport is the first site in a national CDC study on the effects of PFAS on human health.

In 2016, the Saint-Gobain plastics factory in Merrimack notified the state that it had emitted unsafe levels of the chemicals, impacting drinking water wells in the area.

Saint-Gobain recently implemented a new state-mandated air emissions treatment system for their factory, where they use PFAS substances to produce military and emergency gear. The treatment system burns off the PFAS chemicals, which can build up in groundwater after being deposited as air emissions.

The company says it will submit a report on hydrogen fluoride emissions testing from their new treatment system to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services in November.

In an email statement to NHPR, the company said, “Saint-Gobain is aware of the EPA’s recent announcement of its PFAS Roadmap and welcomes a science-based approach to regulation.”

The EPA’s new plan for PFAS includes restricting some industrial PFAS discharges. The roadmap sets out a plan to restrict discharges through various efforts, including restricting some discharges using Effluent Limitations Guidelines, gathering data to inform other restrictions and proposing changes to current permitting processes that would introduce monitoring requirements and conditions based on elimination or substitution of PFAS compounds in certain industrial processes.

New Hampshire has some of the strictest limits for PFAS in drinking water in the country and regulates more PFAS compounds than the EPA plans to regulate immediately.

The EPA’s plan includes setting national primary drinking water regulations for two compounds in the PFAS family, PFOA and PFOS, and monitoring others. New Hampshire set drinking water regulations for four of the compounds in 2019.

The EPA’s roadmap also includes efforts to create a hazardous substance designation for PFOA and PFOS.

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

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