New Hampshire proposes strict water drinking standards

Holly Ramer
Associated Press

Concord, N.H. – New Hampshire’s environmental agency proposed drinking water standards Friday that would be among the nation’s strictest for a group of industrial compounds that have increasingly turned up in public water supplies and private wells.

The Department of Environmental Services filed a proposal to set maximum contaminant levels for four compounds called per- and polyfluoroalykyl substances, known collectively as PFAS. The substances, widely used in firefighting foam, nonstick cookware and other products, have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they persist so long in the environment. Studies have found potential links between high levels in the body of one form of the contaminant, known as PFOA, and a range of illnesses, including kidney cancer, increased cholesterol levels and problems in pregnancies.

In this June 7, 2018 photo, PFAS foam gathers at the the Van Etten Creek dam in Oscoda Township, Mich., near Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

A spokeswoman for the American Chemistry Council industry group said it looks forward to reviewing the proposal and providing feedback.

The federal government has a nonbinding health threshold of 70 parts per trillion for two forms of the contaminant and has announced plans to consider limits on the potentially toxic chemicals.

But several states are moving to enact their own standards. New Hampshire is proposing 12 parts per trillion for PFOA and 15 parts per trillion for PFOS, another form of the contaminant. Scientists advising the state of Michigan suggested earlier this week limits of 8 parts per trillion for PFOA and 16 parts per trillion for PFOS.

Meanwhile, Vermont’s Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill this month that put in place an interim drinking water standard of 20 ppt for the sum of five PFAS. The state is working to establish a permanent 20 ppt standard for five compounds in any combination, and on Thursday sued several companies for damage it says has been caused by the chemicals.

New Hampshire filed a similar lawsuit last month against eight companies. It has connected more than 700 homes to new water systems in four communities due to contamination and estimates more than 100,000 people eventually could be affected.

“Toxic PFAS chemicals are threatening drinking water and public health across New Hampshire,” Tom Irwin, director of the Conservation Law Foundation in New Hampshire, said in a statement. “The new standards proposed today are a significant step in the right direction for protecting our communities, but more needs to be done.”

The proposed drinking water standards will be considered by a legislative rules committee next month. If approved, they would apply to public water systems that serve the same 25 people at least 60 days per year. The standards would take effect Oct. 1.