In Litchfield, Residents On Edge About Health Effects of PFOA Contamination

Apr 8, 2016

Litchfield residents listen to state environmental officials discuss PFOA contamination at a meeting Thursday night.
Credit Emily Corwin

Residents of Litchfield grilled a panel from the Department of Environmental Services Thursday night with questions about water contamination in their town.

This was round two in a series of public information sessions after the contaminant PFOA was found in groundwater surrounding the Saint-Gobain plastics plant in Merrimack. 

Two weeks ago, DES told residents they would get free bottled water only if their wells tested over 100 parts per trillion of this contaminant.

Thursday, residents whose well water is below that, but who live within a mile of the plant – learned they, too qualify for bottled water. DES said it will provide bottled water to all 400 properties on well water within a one-mile radius of the plant.

That's about 15 times more residents that had been receiving bottled water. Assistant Commissioner Clark Freise explained the distribution process at Thursday night's meeting.

We will give you a month’s supply of water to get you started. A month’s supply, each case is six 1 gallon bottles, we give you 10 cases.

Saint-Gobain is paying for the water. But what about the people outside that one-mile radius? Lisa Ricard has lived in Litchfield for 10 years.  She says her well – is just a few houses outside the free-water zone:

They stopped at 381 we’re at 343. So you’re right on the edge. It's nerve-wracking.

Ricard says she's not sure whether she'll get her water tested on her own.

 It’s expensive, they said and I really don’t have the money to do that right now. I’m hoping they’ll test it so I can find out.

DES has tested 182 out of 256 wells, almost all of which are inside the 1 mile radius. They say they’ll follow the data: if wells farther away test above that 100 parts per trillion threshold set by the state, those folks will qualify for bottled water, and perhaps, filtration systems, too.

The questions Thursday night ran the gamut: Many wondered, will Saint-Gobain be paying for the cleanup?. Freise explained: the state has demanded as much:

So far they’ve been above board, they’ve had reasonable and serious questions, they say they will be quick in their response

People wanted to know: will my home values go down? Answer from the town Selectman Frank Byron—it’s likely; And, Litchfield resident Matt Gould says he's concerned about his dog's health.

– I have a large dog that drinks a lot of water. He’s ripped all the hair off his legs. I have another dog that does the exact same thing. My neighbor I just found out her dog’s been doing the exact same thing. I want to get my dog’s blood tested to find out exactly if he’s been poisoned or not.

The notion of negative health affects is scary for both people and their pets. Still, State Epidemiologist Ben Chan reminded the audience that health effects are still more uncertain for pets than they are for humans.

Still – if you think your water might have high levels of PFOA?  Filtered water for Fido? Might be a good idea.  

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