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N.H. lawmakers close in on $25 million for PFAS remediation and new regulations

Annie Ropeik
Merrimack has been at the center of the state’s conversation around the chemicals since 2016, when contamination was discovered in hundreds of drinking wells near the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility.

Of the nine bills this session that aimed to address PFAS contamination in the state, three are still in play. One would put $25 million into a PFAS remediation fund, while the other two address how the chemicals are regulated in the air and before they enter wastewater treatment facilities.

Those are meaningful changes, according to some lawmakers and citizen advocates who are glad to see the bills advance. But they also say they’re insufficient to address the problem posed by the so-called “forever chemicals” in the state.

“We still have work to do,” said Laurene Allen, head of Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water. “Do these bills go far enough? No, they don’t.”

Allen said ongoing advocacy is needed to ensure funding reaches communities struggling with the cost of remediation so they aren’t left struggling to afford the high maintenance costs of solutions indefinitely.

PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they are persistent in the environment and take so long to break down. They’re common in consumer products, like stain-resistant couches and carpets, although they’ve been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer and reproductive health issues.

Merrimack has been at the center of the state’s conversation around the chemicals since 2016, when contamination was discovered in hundreds of drinking wells near the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility. And in December 2021, the state issued a report that foundelevated rates of kidney and renal pelvis cancer in the town, leaving residents with many unanswered questions. A state study into the matter is ongoing.

Allen said Merrimack has received a few small grants to address water quality issues, but most funding has come in the form of loans, saddling ratepayers with millions that have to be paid back eventually.

She’s concerned the legislation creating the new remediation fund, House Bill 1547, does not say how much of the money would go toward grants, which she supports over loans.

If passed into law, the money would go toward the state’s drinking water protection program, providing low-interest loans and grants to address drinking water with PFAS contamination. Municipalities, community water systems, public water systems, and certain wastewater treatment facilities could apply for grants of up to $1.5 million or 30 percent of the total eligible cost of a project, the bill states. And the funding could be used for rebate programs.

The PFAS remediation fund in House Bill 1547 made it through a round of final negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers Monday.

Rep. Howard Pearl, a Loudon Republican, said the House requested the committee of conference to review the expenditure added to the bill. “The House Finance Committee had wanted an opportunity to take a look at that and make sure they felt the funding was there and appropriate,” he said.

House lawmakers agreed to the Senate’s version of the bill, with the most significant change adding in $25 million in spending. The bill is now nearing the finish line of the legislative process. The House and Senate need to agree to a final version by May 26 for it to head to the governor’s desk.

“That’s big news,” said Rep. Bill Boyd, a Merrimack Republican, about the $25 million he said was added into the bill by Sen. Chuck Morse, the Senate president. “That’s a win for people who have been impacted by PFAS.”

Mindi Messmer, an environmental scientist, agreed. “I’m absolutely in support of providing more relief to cities and towns and well owners to address these chemicals in their water systems,” she said.

House and Senate lawmakers also agreed Monday to include a provision requiring the person responsible for creating contamination to provide “safe alternate water to any impacted well owner.” And it instructs the Department of Environmental Services to establish standards for PFAS contamination in the soil.

Allen wanted additional assurances about how the money would be spent, worrying that the funding could be chalked up as a win for politicians without translating into real improvements on the ground. Current remediation efforts can’t remove all of the PFAS from the town’s water, and maintaining the system moving forward is expensive.

Two other PFAS bills are heading to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 1546 asks the Department of Environmental Services to review the scientific literature on air emissions of PFAS each year, to determine how it should be regulated.

And House Bill 1185 looks at stopping PFAS at their source. Its prime sponsor, Rep. Rosemarie Rung, a Merrimack Democrat, said this would be the first time New Hampshire has regulated PFAS in wastewater.

“The state has had a lot of difficulty in regulating PFAS at the source,” she said.

The bill would allow municipalities to regulate the level of PFAS they are allowing to enter their wastewater treatment facilities from commercial facilities.

Rung said the legislation would put pressure on companies to reduce their PFAS use or optimize their processes. Her hope is this will reduce the PFAS used in industrial and commercial applications.

In Merrimack, she said, this would help keep PFAS out of the town’s composting operation since the town uses biosolids, a product of the wastewater treatment process to create compost.

“This is a hugely important bill because we know there’s a lot of PFAS ending up in our wastewater and no viable technology that is both cost effective and able to remove PFAS,” Messmer said, stressing the importance of stopping the contamination upstream.

The House agreed to a Senate amendment exempting residential wastewater from the regulation. The bill now heads to the governor.

Other attempts to stop PFAS at the source have already been nixed this session, including Boyd’s attempt to ban the sale of products with PFAS added. House Bill 1589 was rejected in the House.

House Bill 1422, an attempt to add warning labels on products containing the chemicals, shared that fate.

And House Bill 478, which would have required Saint-Gobain to continue paying for remediation of the wells it contaminated beyond a five-year period established by a 2018 settlement agreement, was referred to interim study and will not advance this session.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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