Last Chance To Weigh In On N.H.'s 'Teflon Toxin' Drinking Water Standard

Aug 16, 2016

Credit Joe Shlabotnik/flickr

This Friday is the last day for New Hampshire residents to weigh in on drinking water standards for the chemicals PFOA and PFOS. These are the chemicals that have contaminated drinking water in Southern NH, on the former Pease Air Force Base, and countless other locations around the country and the world.

On Tuesday, NHPR host, Brady Carlson spoke with reporter Emily Corwin about the deadline.

So get me up to date here. Friday is the deadline for the public to comment on a new rule?

Yes. So – to make a very long story  short: these chemicals have been known to be dangerous for decades now, but there hasn’t been a ton of research showing just how toxic they are. This spring, the EPA released a long-awaited health advisory level for how much of these chemicals it is safe to drink on a regular basis. They based their recommendation on a great deal of research and it is 70 parts per trillion of PFOA or PFOS, combined.

That’s the standard now in New Hampshire, right?

Well, the feds’ advisory level was just a suggestion to states – not a mandate or regulation. In May, NH adopted that standard as an enforceable, but temporary state regulation. To put it on the books as a long term rule, they have to go through a formal rulemaking process and that includes getting public comment.

Are people happy with this 70 ppt level?

Some are, I have talked to maybe two residents with contaminated water who trust the EPA’s conclusions. But many people with contaminated water in Merrimack and Litchfield, near the Saint-Gobain plastics plant, don’t trust the EPA’s standard. Some are sending emails and form letters and signing petitions asking for regulation that is much more stringent. Some say it should be 20 parts per trillion – that’s Vermont’s state standard; others say 10; and many say non-detect is safest and therefor best. As of today, DES reports it has received 12 comments from individuals.

What has been DES’s response to this?

The state has to have a public comment period during the rulemaking process. But state law makes it pretty clear that were the federal government has a drinking water advisory, the state is to adopt that level for its standard.

However, Jim Martin with NH’s DES did tell me that public comments made by residents can be used to amend a standard. So, he says, the public’s comments can make a difference as to what the standard is set at, and other aspects of the rule.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the federal recommendation of 70 parts per trillion is too high?

The scientific community isn’t of one mind on this subject. Most agree the federal level is much better than nothing, and better than it had been.  But right now scientists still don’t know for sure just how toxic this stuff is.  Some scientists say: given the lack of conclusive research and ongoing studies, the level should be as protective as possible. I know of one such scientist who will be submitting her comments by Friday at 4pm – the deadline.

How can people comment if they want to, before then?

They can send an email to John Regan. His email address is listed here, along with more information on the process.