By Jeff McMenemy
Posted Jan 11, 2019 at 6:48 PM
PORTSMOUTH - New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services officials have rejected a petition request to treat PFAS compounds as a class of chemicals, rather than regulating them on a chemical-by-chemical basis.
The petition came from a series of high-profile environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation, Testing For Pease, the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance, Merrimack Citizens For Clean Water and the Toxics Action Center.
The federal Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has said PFAS chemicals are a suspected carcinogen, may affect “growth, learning and behavior” in children, could hurt the body’s immune system, may make it harder for women to get pregnant and could increase cholesterol levels.
PFAS are man-made chemicals used in firefighting foam, non-stick products and stain resistant fabrics and carpets.
DES Commissioner Robert Scott rejected the request from the groups in a letter sent to Tom Irwin, the vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, on Thursday.
Scott acknowledged in the letter that DES “has been given express authority to adopt drinking water standards beyond those established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
Scott also pointed out that his agency is in the process of adopting “individual maximum contaminant limits (MCLs) for four PfAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PfHxS).”
DES was compelled to do that by recently passed legislation, which was drafted by former state Rep. Mindi Messmer.
But DES believes “it would be premature at this time to initiate rulemaking for PFAS compounds outside the scope of the specific legislative authorization, since there is significantly less scientific information on PFAS compounds outside those four,” Scott said in the letter.
“We understand the desire to regulate groups of this large class of persistent, bio-accumulative, and mobile chemicals, and have urged the US EPA to invest the needed resources to identify an appropriate, scientifically-based methodology to do so,” Scott added.
Messmer, a scientist, said DES’ decision shows the agency is “not being protective of public health, like other states are.”
States like Vermont and New Hampshire have set much lower standards on PFAS chemicals than New Hampshire has.
She also criticized DES for deferring to the EPA to address PFAS chemicals and their health hazards.
“Relying on the EPA to come up with some technology-based standards is probably not going to happen under the current administration,” Messmer said Friday.
The EPA has set public health advisory levels for just two of the thousands of PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA.
“They’ve said they’re going to begin looking at it but there’s no schedule or any formal plans,” Messmer said. “With New Hampshire having the highest rate of pediatric cancer in the country, DES should be looking at more protective standards and treating PFAS as a class of chemicals.”
Thousands of people, including children at two day cares, were exposed to PFAS contamination in the city-owned Haven well at the Pease International Tradeport before the city shut down the well in May 2014. Investigators believe the PFOS compounds came from firefighter foam used at the former Pease Air Force Base.
Portsmouth mother Andrea Amico, the co-founder of Testing For Pease, expressed disappointment in DES’s decision.
“The scientific evidence on health effects related to PFAS continues to grow and we have seen other states take the lead and be more proactive. The health effects associated with single PFAS compounds are serious and concerning such as different types of cancer, immune dysfunction, thyroid issues, and more,” Amico said Friday. “However, we don’t know yet what the combination of multiple PFAS will do to the human body.”
Amico believes “DES should take a precautious and proactive approach to stop New Hampshire residents from being exposed to all PFAS in drinking water by
Like Messmer, Amico noted that the EPA “has moved very slow to address PFAS issues and continues to lag in leading the way to assist millions of Americans facing PFAS contaminated drinking water.”
That’s why DES “cannot wait for the EPA to step up and do the heavy lifting because the residents of New Hampshire will suffer in the interim.”
“By not regulating PFAS as a class, our state and federal government are letting us down and gambling with public health,” she added.