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The public can now comment on a new report about Merrimack's PFAS exposure

saint gobain oxidizer
Annie Ropeik
/
NHPR
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 public comment period is open for a new health consultation report on PFAS contamination in Merrimack released last week by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The agency evaluated community exposure to the harmful chemicals and the risks for private well users.

The report says drinking private well water prior to 2016 could have increased the risk for harmful health effects for some community members, and those continuing drinking untreated well water may still have increased risk.

Pregnant people, infants, children, and those with pre-existing conditions may be particularly vulnerable to harmful effects of PFAS exposure, according to the ATSDR.

Among other impacts, the health effects of PFAS exposure could include increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant people, developmental effects in infants, and increased cholesterol levels in some people, the report says.

New Hampshire officials asked the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to evaluate PFAS exposure after the harmful chemicals were found in groundwater near the Saint-Gobain facility in Merrimack in 2016.

Since 2016, many community members have relied on bottled water, installed water treatment systems, or switched to public water systems with the help of local officials and the company.

Saint-Gobain installed a new air emissions treatment system designed to burn off the harmful chemicals this past summer. In November, lawmakers and community advocates called for the Saint-Gobain facility to be shut down after state regulators sent a letter of deficiency to the company about an unauthorized bypass stack on the control system. The company says the stack wasn’t hidden, and that they’re working to resolve the issue with regulators.

The ATSDR’s evaluation shows more than 230 out of the 2,745 wells evaluated in five towns had PFAS levels that could be harmful for infants or young children. 22 wells had levels that could harm all age groups. An ATSDR map shows wells of potential concern are concentrated around the Saint-Gobain site.

Levels of PFOA, one of the PFAS chemicals, were significantly elevated in community members who underwent blood testing compared to the rest of the United States. Almost half of private well users who had their blood tested had levels of PFOA that would place them in the top 5 percent of exposure in the U.S.

Among other recommendations, the agency says people in the area using private wells should monitor their water quality, and those with potential exposure should talk to their health care provider.

The ATSDR plans to release a separate report on public water supplies in the area.

In a statement on the ATSDR report last week, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said she "urges those who may be impacted to take the opportunity to review the findings and submit comments and questions to ATSDR."

Shaheen recently pushed for a boost in funding to continue a nationwide study on PFAS which she established in 2017 as a part of the annual defense bill.

“I’ll use every tool available and pursue every path forward in Congress to advance legislation that makes good on our nation’s commitment to provide clean drinking water to every household,” she said.

The Agency will publish their responses to public comments in the appendix of their final report.

The period for public comments ends on March 1, 2022. Those interested in submitting public comments can email ATSDRRecordsCenter@cdc.gov. For more information about PFAS, members of the public can call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit the ATSDR website.