What's Next, Now That N.H. Officials Have Proposed Among The Strictest PFAS Limits In The Country?

Jul 15, 2019

Credit wikimedia commons

New restrictions on PFAS and what that means for Granite State communities. These chemicals have been found in public water supplies around the state. Used for decades in such products as Teflon and Gortex, they've been linked to serious health problems, spurring communities to take action, including lawsuits. Now, after intense pressure from community activists, New Hampshire officials have proposed some of the lowest PFAS limits in the country. We'll find out what's in store now, in terms of testing, following the health effects of these chemicals, and more. 

GUESTS: 

  • Margaret Byrnes - Executive director of the N.H. Municipal Association. 
  • Clark Freise - Assistant Commissioner for the N.H. Department of Environmental Services.
  • Annie Ropeik - NHPR’s energy and environment reporter.    

Read Annie Ropeik's extensive coverage of PFAShere

Transcript:

 

Laura Knoy:

From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

New Hampshire has recently taken aggressive action against a class of industrial chemicals known as PFAS. These compounds have been found in the soil and significantly the drinking water in all 10 counties. So they're hard to avoid, which is alarming given that PFAS linked to a range of serious health problems. And so New Hampshire plans to dramatically lower the allowable levels of these chemicals far below what the EPA recommends. Also, the Sununu administration is suing fast manufacturers, corporations like 3M and Dupont, while other states have also sued these companies. The Granite State's lawsuit takes a more comprehensive approach today in exchange, an update and all that's been going on. And we welcome your questions. Our email exchange at an HP morgue once again, exchange and NHPR.org use Facebook or Twitter at an HP exchange or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
We have three guests in Studio Clark Freise here, assistant commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, Clark. Welcome back. Good to see you.

Clark Freise:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Also with us, Margaret Byrnes, executive director of the New Hampshire Municipal Association. Margaret, thank you for being here.

Thank you for having us.

Margaret Byrnes:
And also with us Annie Ropeik, NHPR's, Energy and environment reporter. And Annie, thank you also for your time. You're very generous with it.

Annie Ropeik:
Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
And just a quick reminder, please, what is PFAS.

Annie Ropeik:
Ok, so this stands for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and as many times, as I say that it never gets easier. It's basically a giant class of thousands of chemicals that are synthetic compounds that were used in various manufacturing processes really for decades up until the mid 2000s in most cases. So they were used in familiar things like Teflon and Gortex, things that are nonstick or water resistant, grease proof, stain resistant carpeting, various fabrics, all kinds of food wrappers and things like that. And then also firefighting foam. So the kind of thing that is used at military bases, fire stations, airports all over the country.

Annie Ropeik:
And so these chemicals were really ubiquitous. I mean, they were used in so many different kinds of products by so many different kind of sectors of the economy that they are now found literally all over the globe in pretty much everyone's blood at some level. And as you mentioned, they have been linked by some studies to health problems ranging from high cholesterol to potentially there's a little less research to support this so far, but potentially some cancers as well, and infertility and cardiac related active issues, immune deficiencies, developmental problems.

Annie Ropeik:
And then, yeah, kidney and liver problems of all kinds are really one of the focal points.

Laura Knoy:
Why are they called Annie forever chemicals?

Annie Ropeik:
Yes, this is interesting. It's a term we've started to hear in the past year. So being used more and more. And it's really because they are so persistent. They were designed to be hard to get rid of because they were designed to protect things against, you know, harsh conditions and effects. And what happens is when they sort of wash off or wear off of a product or out of a firefighting foam into the environment, they tend to stay there. They don't break down the way another chemical might sort of break into its component molecules and kind of wash away, you know, a lot of Environmental Protection Agency cleanups. The method is just to let it go away on its own. And that's proven successful for certain contaminants. But for PE farce, it takes a really, really long time decades for that to happen in a lot of cases. And then they also like to stick to organic material so you can ingest them by your drinking them in water or breathing them. You know, they can settle from from air emissions and soil into the groundwater and then you can adjust them. It's drinking water. That's really sort of the top concern as far as exposure, like a little bit more so are a lot more so rather than touching them or something like that or breathing them.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I did want to ask you about the drinking water. That's been the focus here in New Hampshire. And we've all heard the stories about certain communities that have had to drink bottled water and so forth. But just hearing your description earlier, any it seems like even if you're drinking water is 100 percent pure, you could pick up PFAS from a pizza box, your carpet, your Teflon, rice cooker. I mean, all sorts of stuff like drinking water,.

Annie Ropeik:
Your bottled water.

Annie Ropeik:
In some cases, there's, you know, a couple of studies that suggested maybe in some bottled water brands. So, yeah, I mean, you should expect that you have some amount of these chemicals in your blood. I mean, there's pretty much no question about that. But whether those are going to cause health problems is a lot bigger of a question. And and there's, you know, a lot of the questions for regulators around these chemicals are what is sort of the natural background level of them in the environment. I mean, they are so ubiquitous that we can't expect ever to find zero of that much as we would like to. And so you have to sort of figure out how much you should expect to see and how much of that is safe and how much you should want to actually be able to get rid of, even if it is not coming from a specific source. It's just out there because it's everywhere. And that's, you know, sort of what this regulatory process is about, because then once they get into your body, they say. There for decades as well. And they build up and that's why we see some of these longer term health effects. It's not just, you know, the acute single exposure, it's the long term buildup of chemicals in your body.

Laura Knoy:
So, Annie, I want to bring your other guests in as well. But just one more question about sort of when New Hampshire started focusing on these, because it seems like five years ago, nobody was even really talking about this. And now you and I have had probably two dozen conversations about it on the air.

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah, definitely. It was known as an emerging contaminant for a while. I think there's some debate about whether it has fully emerged at this point or not. But the the public consciousness around this really started to evolve just in the past five years or so. Like you said, the EPA and the manufacturers of these chemicals have been concerned about them for much longer than that. But it didn't really start to sort of make headlines and catch local attention until a couple of major contamination incidents in the past several years. And one of those was in Portsmouth. Pease Air Base was contaminated by decades of military use of firefighting foam. They had really significant contamination. And wondering who water well, that children at a daycare and people in offices were exposed to at Pease.

Annie Ropeik:
And that was one of the first sort of major detection. It wasn't the first, but it certainly was one of the big ones in New England. It was one of the first that caught major local attention and sort of affected this big cross section of, you know, civilians and the military and the private sector. And, you know, a state and the feds were involved because it's a Superfund site. And so action at Pease really has helped sort of drive this conversation in New Hampshire, as well as around the state main factory in Merrimack, which came to fruition right around the same time. And so between those two. This has really become a priority for us.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, there's so much to unpack.

Laura Knoy:
And as I said earlier, the state has just recently taken aggressive action against these PFAS chemicals. We'd love your questions and comments. 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Send us an email exchange at an NHPR.org. So, Clark, how does your department, the Department of Environmental Services, decide how to regulate emerging contaminants like PFAS? Given that it's a huge class of chemicals, as Annie said, and given that it's still being studied.

Clark Freise:
It is a big challenge. The normal method for regulating drinking water contaminants is for the federal government to set a drinking water standard called an MCL maximum contaminant level, and then the states implement and we can implement slightly different ways because each state is slightly different. And that's how the system is set up and how we normally operate. Unfortunately, for emerging contaminants and other contaminants like that, we're finding the federal government isn't moving as fast as we as a state and our citizens want to move. In the case of these compounds, we worked with the legislature a couple of years ago, identified based on some issues at the St. Gobain facility, some challenges we were having, particularly around air emissions and how those air emissions could then impact groundwater. Unfortunately, first session, the law that we asked for didn't get passed, but the next year one did get passed. We worked with a legislator out of Merrimack who understood the impacts and he helped pass a very broad bill. And in fact, then the Senate passed a second bill, which was very, very similar. And they both said that these four compounds out of the roughly 4000 PFAS compounds, there's enough science out there that we can set regulatory standards.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, 4000 is a lot.

Laura Knoy:
So in other words, Clark, normally the EPA says, look, states this is the amount of whatever contaminate it might be you can have on your water to be safe. But with this class of chemicals, EPA has a suggestion, right? Clark But not really a hard and fast rule. So states like New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Minnesota are taking action in their own right.

Clark Freise:
They set what's called a provisional health advisory a number years ago, and that's for a very short term exposure. So it's not really useful if you're going to be in an area where it's in the drinking water. Then a couple of years ago, they set a health advisory for two of the compounds. And what that says is here's an advisory that you should start looking at, but it's not enforceable. I as a state, we went ahead and went to emergency rulemaking and made that the ambient ground water quality standards. So we had enforceable hook if somebody needed to do remediation, but to go all the way to an MCL, which is a full drinking water standard. There's a lot more impacts when you bring in every public water system and they suddenly have to go to testing and remediation. And that's what this next step is. Fortunately, the legislature, as I said, was very kind in working with us. They agreed with us that these four compounds were ripe and that there was enough scientific data and studies to go set the standards and they let us go hire some professionals who were very important in trying to take those studies that are out there and turn them into proposed drinking water standards, which is where we're at today.

Laura Knoy:
MCL is maximum contaminant level.

Laura Knoy:
Basically, it's the amount that you say can be present in the water without causing extreme harm. Is that a reasonable layperson? It's not extreme harm.

Clark Freise:
It's it's to prevent harm. But so it is a preventative measure. It's a conservative measure. And the goal is to make sure that if somebody is drinking that water through life, they will not build up enough in their blood to cause a health impact.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Margaret, I want to bring you in, but one less clarification from you. Clark, please. So Department of Environmental Services recently decided to dramatically lower the amount of a couple of these PFAS. Not all four thousand of these four of them. How did you come to that decision? What sort of pushed you to take this much lower level than what EPA recommends?

Clark Freise:
So there are a couple of things. A, when they set the health advisories, they were looking at the studies that were available at that time. Since then, this is an area of very hot research. So there is a great deal of studies coming out, health effects studies, epidemiological studies that are coming out, and that gives you a much broader array of context to look at. In addition, a lot of states are discovering that they have these same impacts. And so the state toxicologists and the state environmental services groups get together and coordinate and share information back and forth, including, unfortunately, blood testing in our impacted populations. Most recently, a study came out of Minnesota where they've been able to go and actually model the blood serum levels in children and actually model the differences between breast fed and formula fed children in impacted regions.

Clark Freise:
And that insight is something brand new. Went through a first round a couple of years ago. It didn't pass peer review. And then this year and January 9th, the first compound passed peer review sense and they published two more. And we've sort of picked it up. And we're actually working to publish the fourth one, which is for PFA Access, one of the four compounds we're trying to regulate.

Laura Knoy:
And peer review basically means this is a solid study. You can rely on this science, correct?

Clark Freise:
That's the scientific method to make sure that my work stands up to Criterion. We send it out to other scientists who are peers equivalence. They review it and say the scientific method and the data were followed appropriately and the conclusions are sound.

Laura Knoy:
So, Margaret, what will these new much lower levels from Department of Environmental Services mean for New Hampshire cities and towns?

Margaret Byrnes:
Well, thank you for that question. Laura, we're looking at. Significant costs that will be borne on municipalities based on these new levels, and when we talk about significant costs, we're talking about increases to the taxpayer. So the mode of funding these costs and if we look at the new proposed rules that that came out in June, the projected expenses are not only significant, but there's a huge range of possibility. You know, so we're looking at, for example, for the treatment costs. They could be anywhere from 70 million upwards to 160 million. Oh, that's a big difference. A big difference. So not only are the costs significant, but the differences, the possibilities are are significant. And there's a big difference between the two.

Margaret Byrnes:
And at this point, we're not looking at any attached state funding to assist municipalities specifically in treatment costs or the ongoing operation and maintenance costs that will be associated with it going forward. And so if that's the case, that there's not state funding or significant state funding. Municipalities have to fund it through their municipal budgets and municipal budgets are funded through taxpayer money. And so we're concerned about that and also concerned about obviously with any type of public health issue. We have to weigh the cost of the public health issue with the benefits. And although there may be benefits to the changes we're looking at here in the proposed rules, we still have to follow the money and ask where the money is coming from to fund that.

Laura Knoy:
So when you look at, you know, balancing out costs and benefits, from my understanding of what municipal water systems are going through, there are other aspects of municipal water systems that you guys are trying to fix right now. On top of this. So how are you going to sort of sort that all out? This concerns about arsenic. This concerns about rusty pipes. There's concerns about, you know, who knows what coming into our water systems.

Margaret Byrnes:
Sure. You know, just like any public system of any sort, there are always updates that are needed or changes that are needed. And each year when, you know, the municipality goes to the taxpayers for a new budget, they're always looking for new projects and new upgrades. And there's always a balancing act. You know, what do we really need now versus what can wait? And so, yes, they're piling on top of already needed updates, upgrades, these new standards. And they're also piling them on top of other things that the towns need, you know, crumbling infrastructure, increased fire and police personnel, other things that are going to be competing interests now with these additional costs.

Laura Knoy:
Would you feel better about these additional costs? Margaret, if they were based on a rule from EPA instead of this sort of squishy suggestion from EPA and then the states kind of taking the lead on their own, I think the costs would still be significant and there would still be questions about how we're going to fund them.

Margaret Byrnes:
I would say that one of the things that is somewhat concerning or that is worth mentioning is why are we at such a big difference between where the EPA is and why are different states at different levels? Is the science bearing out? What is the science telling us about what the risks are versus what the costs are? Why is there that level of inconsistency? I think and obviously I'm I'm not a scientist, but I think we have seen sort of different results out of the studies and we've seen some uncertainty, links to health risks, but not necessarily hard evidence on things. So that raises some concerns as well.

Laura Knoy:
Well, in Clark, the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association has also said it's troublesome for states to have what it calls a mishmash of rules. Vermont has one level. New Jersey has another. New York has another. New Hampshire has another. So why not wait until the EPA settles this?

Clark Freise:
We'd love that. In fact, we were given a unique opportunity because of all the heavy work we've been doing in this. The commissioner and I were asked by EPA to comment on their strategic plan. And we put forward three, we think, fairly simple points. One is we ought to be getting federal standards in these areas. That's the way the system is set up. And we think that ought to be the way it's getting done. Second is we like to find the science to take these whole class. This whole class of compounds, 4000, regulate them as a whole. And as a state, we've not been able to find that science. And I think it's going to have to get funded and developed at a federal level. And the last is we think these compounds ought to get driven out of the commercial and industrial base. We're just not confident that these have to be there. I'm sure there's some medical miracle product that has to have these compounds. But our feeling is for general use for your pizza box, your microwave popcorn. There's got to be a replacement compound that's safe. And the EPA to be working at a federal level to drive that out. But the process each state follows is actually fairly similar in that there's a toxicological method to assess studies and transform those into human health risks. Each state does it slightly differently, but a lot of them are coming to the various very similar or the same numbers.

Laura Knoy:
More on PFAS regulation in New Hampshire in a moment on the. Exchange on an NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today, New Hampshire gets tough on a class of chemicals known as PFAS with much lower allowable levels. And a new lawsuit against the manufacturers. We're finding out more and how much fixing this could cost. Who might pay for it? And let's hear from you. Call in 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Send us an email exchange at an HP morgue. Use Facebook or Twitter at an HP exchange. Activists who've been combating the PFAS concern were very happy with the department environmental services new lower proposed levels, much lower than what EPA recommends. Here's Andrea Amico, co-founder of a group called Testing for Peace.

Caller:
My reaction is I'm very, very pleased with the significant reduction in numbers from where we started with in January. And I think there are much more in line with other states that are proposing much lower standards. And I'm very happy to see that they use this Minnesota tool that took into account infants and breastfeeding moms and as they are very sensitive populations that we should absolutely be considering when we set standards on toxic chemicals.

Laura Knoy:
That's Andrea Amico, co-founder of Testing for Peace, a community action group. Again, today in the exchange, we are looking at some of the new action against these chemicals known as PFAS. We'd love to hear from you. Send us an email exchange at an age PR dot org. Our guests are Margaret Byrnes, executive director of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, Clark Freise, assistant commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. And Annie Ropeik, NHPR's energy and Environment REPORTER. And all of you, before we go to our listeners. Before the break, we were talking about the science and how tough it is because the states are kind of going at it alone, given the lack of guidance from the federal government. At what point, Clark, is the science settled that these chemicals should not be here and we're going to set really tough limits to make sure that they are not here?

Clark Freise:
So the first half of that question is actually, I believe, settled. There are clear linkages to health impacts in humans. The science as to exactly what level absolutely protects you from every possible health impact that's almost never settled. We're going through a process right now in changing the arsenic standards in the state. We've known that arsenic is not good to ingest for at least a thousand years. But getting to the exact science of exactly what impact on exactly what curve. That is ongoing. We're still getting studies out of Dartmouth in particular, is focused on arsenic very heavily, and there's a lot of impacts that are being discovered as far as cardiovascular disease impacts and IQ in children. And then because there's a relatively subtle effects. How do you quantify what that effect is to life? And some of the studies are daunting to read. If a child's IQ was impacted by just a couple of points. When you look at what that impacts through their life, it's it's horrific to read. Really not enjoyable nighttime reading. And we similarly don't want to have that here. Now, in this case, we do not have the same level of certainty as we would with arsenic.

Clark Freise:
And that's why when you go through these calculations are things called uncertainty, factors that are applied to the calculation. And each state looks at the studies and has a certain uncertainty. The interesting part is, while everybody's run through this fairly complex calculation, everybody who is proposing standards is coming into the same range, around 10 to 20 parts per trillion for each individual compound war for some combination of the compounds. So while everybody is following standard EPA method. They have slightly different interpretations of each step, but at the end of the equation, they end up at pretty close to the same end points. And so the feeling is we really are centering in on a good protective standard that's supported by the science, not just the science that we reviewed. We did pay for a peer review by a toxicologist outside and then the other toxicologist from other states have looked at this. And while they differ on a term here or a term they're in the equation, it's interesting. The endpoints are all coming out to about the same numbers.

Laura Knoy:
So given the concern that Margaret raised earlier, that if we are going to adopt this lower standard and municipalities are going to have to make dramatic changes in their water supplies, has DES done the analysis on how much that's going to cost?

Clark Freise:
We have and we update it to these newest and the total number across all impacts that we can quantify. Looks like it could be as much as 190 million dollars. It's a large impact. Statewide. Statewide. Now, that's not overnight. That's over a number of years. And it differentiates by where you're at. And it's not just municipalities. We have a lot of very small water systems. It could just be a neighborhood with 10, 20 homes who run their own little water system for themselves and they could be impacted also. So it's spread throughout that. It's not just drinking water systems. You've also got towns that have landfills that have been closed. They currently monitor them for other compounds. Now they're gonna have to monitor for these. And if they should happen to impact somebodies home, they would have to deal with that. And that can be expensive. I absolutely agree with Margaret. There are significant financial impacts associated with those and they will have to be addressed. The question is, how do you address them? Right now, we do have certain pots of money and we've tried to extend those pots to make it available. We have a normal annual round of what's called these state revolving fund. We intentionally held that window open to get these announced proposals out so that if people thought that they now might want to apply where they hadn't before, they'd have that window of opportunity. The governor did work with the legislature and in the budget that unfortunately didn't pass. There was a proposed pot of money of about six million dollars over the biennium for us to be able to work with communities and impacted water systems to try and soften the blow and get them through the initial testing and design phases. And then there is a consensus in discussions we've had with legislatures and the governor's office the next biennium, when real capital costs are going to start ramping up and build up to 190 million dollars, something is going to have to be done.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we'll talk in a moment about the lawsuit that the state has filed against these companies in hopes that that would be a pot of money. But let's go to our listeners. And again, the number 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 email exchange at an HP Ya dot org. John in Wilton sent us a note. He says, At present, municipal sludge from wastewater plants is applied to farmers fields around New Hampshire. Under the new regs, you're going to see this practice go away after farmers and landowners look at the long term consequence of sludge application. There's a farmer in Maine, John says, who is the poster child for this. The local town applied their sludge to his fields. The state of Maine tested soil in his fields to pipe to find the PFOA s.. That's one of these fast chemicals above the level. He can no longer sell his milk to the local care dairies because his cows milk is now contaminated with PFOA S and P F A S. So, Margaret. This gets to what you were saying before. It's water, but it's a whole lot more that cities and towns can have to start looking at.

Margaret Byrnes:
Absolutely. And what we're looking at now, you know, we have three sets of proposed rules at at this time. We have the drinking water, the ambient groundwater and the discharges to groundwater of wastewater. But there will be more as as time goes on, more implications like the soil implications, the sludge and etc.. So we're looking at sort of the beginning of a very big picture. And even just at the beginning, we're looking at significant costs and significant changes in the way that municipalities operate and pay for things. And of course, I think I don't need to make the point, but I'll make it anyway, which is that municipalities want to have clean drinking water. They want to have clean public systems. They want to have healthy environments for their citizens. And there are but there are all sorts of pressures coming in on them to do all sorts of things. And every public health benefit has a cost associated with it. Guy Clark mentioned earlier the state revolving fund. So you know what forms of state aid are available for municipalities. And it's true that the state revolving fund exists and that municipalities can go to that.

Margaret Byrnes:
But just keep in mind that the revolving fund is a loan fund. So that does require municipalities to go into long term debt, not very different from municipalities going for bonds and getting long term debt that they have to pay off over a period of time. So, you know, that's still a cost that's not a a grant program or just funding. You say that, Barack. So that's just something to keep in mind that the costs are substantial. And that's really our messaging on this. It's not that municipalities don't want to comply. They'd be happy to comply with zero if that's what the science bore out as as a positive result. But we can't ignore the costs associated with it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Annie, as we talk about costs of cleanup, so to speak, it's easy to see how an oil spill can be cleaned up. You know, we've all seen those videos and how the equipment goes in and cleans up the oil. But how do you even clean up these chemicals?

Annie Ropeik:
Well, that's another revolving question. I mean, the technology is having a hard time picturing it. Yeah. I mean, you know, when I'm not like this, one of the tricks with these chemicals is I'm not even sure what to picture when we talk about the chemicals themselves. I often will picture, you know, a carbon filter or some other kind of filtration device that sort of full of gunk that come out comes out of water. I don't know if that's accurate at all. Clark Clark shaking his head. What do they look like? Clark?

Clark Freise:
Yeah, I can't see him at the customers we're talking about, right? Trillion. They're extremely low concentrations. So there is no way to really visualize them.

Annie Ropeik:
Which is sort of part of the problem, I think, in talking about these. But so if you have PFAS in your private well, for example, you can install granular activated carbon filter or a reverse osmosis filter in your house. You know, it's a professional installation. It can cost thousands of dollars and that will cycle the water through and clean. What PFAS is in there out of your water and then you have to sort of replace that filter periodically. The question of how the PFAS is then disposed of. Also an open question. It has to be taken to sort of one of the highest level permanent hazmat incinerators is our closest one in New York.

Annie Ropeik:
Something like that,.

Clark Freise:
Actually the standard carbon filter that you would use in your house. We're very comfortable with them going to any of the active landfills in the state because those landfills are both capped and lined catch and have to take control on them so they don't have we handled it as hazmat. Okay.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and here's a question from a listener who didn't want to give a name, but how is New Hampshire D s going to handle wastewater plants, refusing to take PFAS contaminated water from municipal water producers until treatment plants come online. So this is sort of a person's envisioning a bottleneck issue. Go ahead, Clark. You jump in on that and maybe you, too, Margaret.

Clark Freise:
It is one of the real challenges we in this country and in most modern countries have a highly integrated waste management system, and that includes the wastes from humans, the solid waste that we generate with your food we didn't need and packaging that we didn't use all the way up to our cars and everything else. And that integrated system does trade products between different treatment places. And it's been very, very successful for the contaminants it was built for. These compounds break some of the rules inside of that integrated system. And so there are going to be some real challenges on where do you break the line. And a contamination above a certain level is no longer allowed to continue in that integrated cycle. And there's one things we've been working with the governor's office in hoping to get some of this budget to actually do a study. We're also very fortunate.

Clark Freise:
We've been working with one of the preeminent engineering firms in the world, Battelle. They have some affiliation with the state and they've been coming in because they're looking at new technologies that they may have from their past work. And we've been explaining the data we're seeing out in the field and we're hoping to be able to use some of their research to look at different ways to handle these products.

Laura Knoy:
That's really interesting. And the average person like me doesn't think about this complicated system of sort of waste transfer and everybody saying, sure, I'll take that. Sure. I know what to do with it. Do you wanna quickly comment? Margaret?

Margaret Byrnes:
Absolutely. This listener's question is really a perfect example of the fact that although it may look like we're just talking about creating new standards and lowering the standards, what are the implications of doing that? So there's so much more fallout like dominoes from setting. So I'm setting these standards lower and this high, these highly integrated systems that rely on this sort of process. How will they be changed and implicated? And are we taking the time to sort of slow down and address all of those before we move forward?

Laura Knoy:
Coming up, more on PFAS regulation in the Granite State, including a lawsuit against the manufacturers of these chemicals. This is the exchange on NH PR.

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, the Granite State goes after chemicals known as pee farce with low a lower allowable standard and a wide ranging lawsuit against companies that have produced these. We're finding out more this hour and we're taking your questions. Send them in by email exchange at an NHPR.org. Once again, exchange at an HP morgue or call in 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Clark Freise is here, assistant commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. Margaret Byrnes is with us, executive director of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, along with Annie Ropeik NHPRs energy and environment reporter. And all of you, we've been talking about that much lower standard that New Hampshire DES has been putting out there. Some of the issues around that, the research that concerns the costs, the reasons why. But it did also want to ask all of you about the lawsuit that New Hampshire just recently filed. And Annie, I'll turn to you first. You've reported that New Hampshire's lawsuit against the makers of these compounds is quite comprehensive, perhaps one of the most comprehensive in the nation. So what do you mean by that?

Annie Ropeik:
Yes. So there's been lots of different lawsuits, dozens of lawsuits. In fact, some of them quite recent filed against the makers of these chemicals. The original manufacturer of the company that invented PFAS was 3M. You might know them from such those Scotch tape. And then we also have Dupont as a major player here because they bought PFAS from 3M and used it in things like Teflon and kind of really took it, you know, into mainstream use. So 3M and Dupont are thought of as the original manufacturers of these chemicals. And then we also have the makers of firefighting foams because that's responsible for a lot of the contamination, especially at military sites and airports.

Laura Knoy:
And firefighting foam, by the way, is the foam that's used to put out.

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah. Fire and everything that went on. What's more, you're in your fire extinguisher, too. If there was a fire on a runway, what you would see them spraying on like the deck of. Is that not for cluttering in?

Clark Freise:
No, I think we should. The fire extinguisher at your house does not have these comes out OK. You can use it very safely. Follow the instructions on the label. Make sure it's charged. Check them at least once a year. Acquis film forming foam is a military develop product. The Navy invented it and the idea with is it's a very unique foam barrier. Fuel will go down through it and the air is separated from the fuel. So it separates the fuel from oxygen so it can't ignite. So puts out a very big fire. Very, very conditional use was at airfields where you knew an airplane was coming in and it still had fuel on board. It was going to crash. You would coat the runway and foam, the plane would crash, the fuel would come out of the tanks go below the foam, the oxygen would stay above the foam, and you would hopefully not have a fireball.

Laura Knoy:
I see. So it wouldn't explode. OK, so that's extremely useful. But I can also see just in the description you gave, Clark, how that would very quickly get into the groundwater.

Annie Ropeik:
Exactly. And that's why you see just massive amounts of it being used just in Connecticut right now. They're dealing with a big spill of this stuff from a tank where sort of a computer error or something like that, you know, tripped the system to release all the foam when there was no fire. And now it's in the Farmington River. So so those are the two major sources of this contamination. And lots of towns and states and municipalities, fire districts, all kinds of players, big and small, have sued, have filed lawsuits over this stuff. Class action lawsuits in some cases for reasons of health effects. But what New Hampshire has done is a little bit different. What they've done is filed two lawsuits, one against 3M and Dupont and one against a group of fire foam manufacturers, two to sue them for for negligence and for causing the contamination and all of the state's groundwater. So it's statewide contamination now.

Laura Knoy:
So that's different effects. It's not site by site or town by town. It's the whole state.

Annie Ropeik:
Exactly. And even in the lawsuit dealing, it doesn't really go into great detail about where they've been found. I think in what I've heard from the Department of Justice has been that they're going to sort of let that come out in the details as this moves forward about where specifically we're looking at. And if we're quantifying damages, because the goal here is really a big settlement and we have seen other states and players received similar settlements. So Minnesota got eight hundred and fifty million dollars from 3M recently for people's contamination around 3M manufacturing facilities. One of the EMS and 3M is Minnesota. That's where they're based. And they. So that's a big settlement. And that was a sort of more contained lawsuit even than this one. So so that's kind of the goal. And as we've been saying, that's going to take a really, really long time to materialize. We've heard state officials compare it to the MTBE lawsuit against Exxon several years ago, which took years and and, you know, has taken more years since it was settled to actually have the money materialize in the state for, you know, cleanup of the problem. The suit was over.

Laura Knoy:
So these things take a long, long time. Is the M.B.T.E. comparison a good one, Annie?

Annie Ropeik:
I think so. I'm really interested in that topic, actually. I would love to talk more to the attorney general's office about that. But, you know, that was it different in certain ways, especially that, you know, it's it's more. A single contaminant, it's more of a single actor, it was a little bit more contained, I think, to specific, specific areas. Yeah. Also potentially a smaller settlement than we might be looking at here if that is the direction this lawsuit goes. But but similar in that. And you guys can correct me if I'm wrong, Margaret and Clark, but I believe there were some allegations in the MTBE suit of sort of Exxon should have known that this would happen and that, you know, this stuff shouldn't have been distributed in the way that it was. You know, we've groundwater contamination was a possibility. And that's what we see with PFAS is that past lawsuits have there have been records that have come to bear in past lawsuits. They've shown that companies like 3M did know for decades. And it's on paper that they were obfuscating the science around these things. They were acknowledging health risks and choosing not to make that information public, continuing to sell the products. And then even when the EPA got those companies to agree to stop using them in American manufacturing, you know, 10 or 15 years ago, the New Hampshire lawsuit against the Firestone manufacturers alleges that they went out of their way not to tell people to get rid of their stockpiles of the foam, which is why we still see contamination from that foam today, because it's old foam that contains interesting chemicals.

Laura Knoy:
So. And did you get a chance, any and all the reporting you've done to talk to any of these companies? I've read a couple of statements. We vigorously defend our environmental stewardship. Have they been forthcoming in terms of saying, here's how we respond to this lawsuit?

Annie Ropeik:
Not particularly. They've all sent written statements. You know, I haven't been able to get anyone on the phone, which is pretty common. These are huge, enormous multinational companies. I mean, some of the biggest in the world. So it's not a big surprise to me. But one thing that they are quick to point out is that they never manufactured PFAS in New Hampshire, which, you know, it has been the subject of some of the other lawsuits that it's been around and actual PFAS manufacturing facility for a more specific site like Yemen. So so the state is going to have to, you know, prove that there was still harm caused by sort of through the trickle down from the companies, that they are still responsible for the contamination that users of these chemicals, knowingly or unknowingly, you know, sort of disseminated in the state over the years.

Laura Knoy:
What's your reaction, Margaret, to this lawsuit?

Margaret Byrnes:
Well, to echo Annie's point here, even if we do see money, settlement money that comes out of this lawsuit, we're looking at years and years until we would see such a settlement. So this lawsuit, while positive, is not an answer to the costs that municipalities are going to face. Now, it's a potential future, you know, mode of funding or form of money to help with the effects of PFAS in the water, et cetera. I think the other thing that's important to note here is that we have heard some unfortunate rhetoric calling municipalities or operators of public water systems, the so-called polluters that the individuals who are creating the issue. And I think the lawsuit underscores that the entities that are potentially responsible or responsible are certainly not operators of public water systems. They are the entities that are manufacturing the PFAS and the other chemicals that are under ending up in the water systems and are causing that contamination. And that's a really important point. As I said earlier, municipalities want to have clean water and clean systems. And so it's important not to let sort of that almost misinformation get in the way of working out a solution to the problem.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. Why would municipalities on purpose have less high quality water, soil and so forth? You want people to move to your communities. You want your communities to be seen as healthy, wonderful places to live. Absolutely. Clark, is Department of Environmental Services involved in this lawsuit in any way?

Clark Freise:
Well, for anything where the state is legally involved, the attorney general represents a state. So it's the attorney general's office that really leads the activity. Obviously, we're supporting them in the activities to go forward. We feel like they have outlined a strong suit and we're providing them the information expertise they need in getting ready for that.

Laura Knoy:
Any last thought on this lawsuit and where it goes from here, what the next steps might be?

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah, it's you know, it's going to be a long haul. I think the state has said they're willing to see this out, whatever direction it goes, whether that's a jury trial which has happened in some of these people's lawsuits and or whether it's a settlement there. You know, they like Clark said, they feel that they have a strong case and they're ready to prove some of the allegations in these suits, which are really, really worth reading. They're on our Web site and they're really interesting. I mean, they get into the details of how this stuff was made. You know, what the responsibility is of the companies and sort of the scale at which we've seen it in the environment in New Hampshire and what that means. One thing that's missing from this lawsuit, or at least that it doesn't focus on so much, are the health effects. And so we've heard advocates like Andrea Amico, who we heard from earlier, really focus on that aspect. This issue is something that needs to be addressed more going forward with specific programs and funding and more availability of blood testing for affected people. Medical monitoring practices for doctors, treating exposed people to know what to look for, what's you know, what potential health risks could you see? What kind of tests should you do for someone exposed as a baby at different ages? And PS is going to be involved in a national health study on these chemicals. And so we'll start to get some answers there. But, you know, the lawsuit doesn't really talk much about the health effects. It's just contamination. You know, full stop. Pretty much as you know, that's sort of enough for the state to sue over because it's a lot harder to prove the health effects. But that's a big question mark that we're going to see more about, I think, going forward.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, I noticed that, too. Any this suit largely talks about natural resources.

Laura Knoy:
It doesn't talk about the individuals who might have been affected. Very quickly, Margaret and Clark, this seems to be happening pretty rapidly, the new standards and so forth, this wide ranging lawsuit. What's the next important step, Margaret, in your opinion?

Margaret Byrnes:
Well, from our perspective, we are looking for a process that sets municipalities up for success, not failure. So a process that takes a step back and thinks about all of those implications and potential fallout that are created from lowering the standards and takes into account what are the steps that municipalities have to go through if they need to make changes to the way that they operate and test, etc.. Let's think about what is a reasonable timeframe for them to be able to comply with that as well as whereas the funding going to come from. So that this potential public health issue also doesn't talk turn into a financial crisis for municipalities as well.

Laura Knoy:
Clark, how about you? What's the next step?

Clark Freise:
Well, I agree very much with Margaret. And we actually had a meeting between our groups yesterday to try and go through the timelines, not just for these standards, but for the future standards that we would be looking at developing for soil and surface waters. And obviously, we want to do the implementation in a way that doesn't have catastrophic impacts. We think we've got a path laid out where it's a time period of testing and then a time period of design and then finally a time period of build. And so it does spread out those implications. I would agree there is still a shortage of money at every level of government. And having more money available to help with that implementation would be beneficial for all.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Lots more to follow up on in future shows. Thank you all very much for being here today. I really appreciate it. This is the exchange on NH PR.

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