State environmental officials on Friday proposed what would be some of the lowest limits in the country for four types of PFAS chemicals in public water supplies and groundwater.
The numbers are far lower than what the state originally had planned, and lower than the federal advice New Hampshire currently uses as law.
The proposals are now much closer to advice from the Centers for Disease Control, and to pending plans from states like Michigan and New Jersey.
New Hampshire is now proposing a limit of 12 parts per trillion on PFOA, down from an initial proposal of 38 ppt; 15 ppt for PFOS, down from 70 ppt; 11 ppt for PFNA, down from 23 ppt; and 18 ppt for PFHxS, down from 85 ppt.
The Department of Environmental Services says it sharply lowered the proposed limits after new research in Minnesota emphasized how low levels of PFAS can especially harm infants and children through breastfeeding or in the womb.
Assistant state environmental services commissioner Clark Freise says that modeling was the “biggest change of all” that drove the state to these numbers.
“It makes it very clear that there is a significant increase in a breastfeeding child’s blood serum levels, to levels we’re just not comfortable with,” Freise says. “That’s where we set the standard – to be fully protective for those children through life, for all populations.”
PFAS chemicals were used for decades in products like Teflon, Goretex, stain-resistant carpeting and firefighting foam.
They've been linked to a range of serious health problems, particularly kidney and liver disease, high cholesterol, developmental and reproductive issues and, potentially, certain cancers.
Compliance with the new water standards will mean more routine testing and potentially installation of treatment systems for public water systems, landfills and others.
Freise estimates it could cost those entities up to $190 million over the next two years alone – at least 30 to 50 more than the original proposals would have.
Ned Beecher, head of the Tamworth-based Northeast Biosolids and Residuals Association, is worried about that. He says municipal and industry groups like his weren’t considered enough in the state’s regulatory process.
“Municipalities have not made this issue and cannot afford to be the ones who have to figure out and pay for this broad societal issue,” Beecher says. “Protecting public health is crucial, but we need the broader society – the state and beyond – to help municipalities with whatever proves to be needed.”
New Hampshire hopes to help offset those compliance costs in part using damages they’re seeking in two new lawsuits against big makers and users of PFAS chemicals, including 3M and DuPont.
Those were filed by the state Department of Justice, separate from DES’s rulemaking, but if a large settlement does come through, Freise says, “that would obviously be used to help soften the impacts to municipalities.”
The state of Minnesota last year netted $850 million in a similar settlement with 3M, which invented PFAS.
Former state Rep. and New Hampshire Safe Drinking Water Alliance co-founder Mindi Messmer estimates New Hampshire’s settlement could be even bigger than that. And regardless, she says stricter standards are worthwhile in terms of avoided health costs.
"I’m happy that this will work towards, in my opinion, preventing cancer and chronic disease in our state,” she says.
Andrea Amico agrees. She co-founded the advocacy group Testing for Pease in Portsmouth after her family was exposed to PFAS on the former military base.
“Ultimately I want a world where we’re not drinking PFAS and we’re not exposed to PFAS, and I know we’re not going to get there overnight, but this is a very positive step in the right direction,” she says of the new state proposals.
The new drinking water limits go for approval by a legislative committee on July 18 and would take effect in October.
Advocates say the state’s next step should be to notify communities where past testing has shown PFAS levels in drinking water that would not be considered safe under the new proposals. That could include some private wells around the Coakley Landfill Superfund site on the Seacoast, among others.