By Alex LaCasse
Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 5:29 PMUpdated Apr 13, 2019 at 5:29 PM
RYE -- As the nation learns more about possible health threats associated with PFAS exposure, Seacoast activists are continuing their push for the development of a cohesive strategy for limiting their spread.
The issues surrounding PFAS contamination on the Seacoast are well documented with multiple locations where groundwater has higher concentrations above the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory levels. Among them include Pease International Tradeport, Coakley landfill, groundwater near Hampton’s closed landfill and most recently a public well in Stratham.
Many PFAS chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS are suspected carcinogens.
The EPA’s health advisory limit is 70 parts per trillion, but some policy makers have advocated for the state Department of Environmental Services to lower the standards in drinking water for PFAS concentrations as several other states have done, like Vermont at 20 ppt and New Jersey at 14 ppt.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, said there is one largely unregulated and unexplored area absent from the PFAS discussion. Sherman said fill dirt brought in for new subdivisions and water sources landscaping companies are drawing from are untested for PFAS chemicals. He said he has heard anecdotally from Rye residents that they have witnessed landscapers drawing water to be used to hydroseed clients’ lawns from Berry’s Brook, which has been tested and shows high levels of PFAS concentrations.
“This all comes at a cost to municipalities on how much they want to balance public health with the costs of doing all the testing. The liability the state will be confronting from PFAS chemicals is massive,” Sherman said. “This responsibility falls on the manufacturers who disseminated these chemicals knowing they were toxic and it shouldn’t be taxpayers who are left to pay for the clean up.”
Former state Rep. Mindi Messmer, an environmental scientist and co-founder of New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance, said the biggest concern for PFAS exposure still comes from runoff from landfills, such as Coakley, into surface water supplies and also from PFAS chemicals’ presence in biosolids, which get turned into compost material and spread over agricultural lands.
“There are 300 landfills in the state and only eight have liners under them. There’s a lot that needs to be addressed in a holistic approach,” said Messmer, who is also a member of the state Commission on the Seacoast Cancer Cluster Investigation.
″(In this scenario) it’s something that should be very easy to stop the spread of: Landscapers need to stop using contaminated water if that’s what they’re doing unknowingly,” she said, but added, “it’s not at the top of my list of the biggest concerns for PFAS contamination.”
The public comment for DES review of the maximum contamination level (MCL) for drinking water standards ended Friday. DES spokesman Jim Martin said the department is investigating the possibilities of PFAS spreading through landscaping projects. However, he added, DES’s immediate concern is finalizing the drinking water standards and it hopes to present the recommendations by June to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules for final adoption.
The state’s current MCL for drinking water is 70 ppt for PFOA and PFAS.
“Whatever the new drinking water standard becomes, it would become the new ambient groundwater standard for the cleanup purposes of PFOA, PFOS, PFNA and PFHxS,” Martin said.
Sherman said he primarily agreed with Messmer on the hierarchy the exposure threats posed by different PFAS sources, but while the state finalizes its standards, municipalities could be working to enact ordinances to regulate the use of surface water and fill dirt so they are tested before being brought to a jobsite.
Sherman’s Senate Bill 287, which would lower the MCL for PFAS chemicals in drinking water to 20 ppt has been tabled until DES returns with its new suggested drinking water standard.
“These are the smaller uses of PFAS in our everyday lives we don’t think about,” he said. ”(Hydroseeding and fill dirt) are not the highest priority, but they’re part of the package.”