N.H. Legislature To Take Up Several Bills On Water Contamination, Health Hazards

Dec 25, 2017

State lawmakers will consider a slew of contamination-related bills in 2018, including ones related to the Coakley Landfill Superfund site.
Credit Via USGS.gov

Lawmakers will consider at least a dozen bills about water contamination and other environmental hazards when they return to session in January.

Rep. Mindi Messmer, a Rye Democrat who's running for Congress, is sponsoring several bills related to state regulation of perflourinated chemicals, or PFCs, in public water systems, as well as in surface and bottled water.

Her bills don’t specify a numerical limit on the amount of PFCs that can be present in water, after her effort to lower that limit failed in the legislature this year. Instead, she says she’s asking the state Department of Environmental Services to devise its own rules.

“The [bills] specify to look at other states' standards and refresh your understanding of the science, to come to a decision about whether or not we're being protective enough of New Hampshire citizens and their water,” she says.

Messmer says her limited success passing PFC legislation in the 2017 session was worth it.

"It made an issue out of it,” she says. “It really elevated the conversation, so we're starting from a higher baseline this year."

Among other bills she’s sponsoring or co-sponsoring are a measure to sharply lower the limit on arsenic in groundwater, and a proposal to get more money for the state from entities that cause environmental problems.

She’s also signed on to a proposal that would require people selling a property to tell their buyers about certain environmental hazards or water contamination within a mile.

Messmer got into politics after serving on a state task force created to investigate a cancer cluster on the Seacoast. The group has focused largely on PFC contamination as a potential cause, including at the Coakley Landfill Superfund site.

Messmer is now sponsoring a bill for the 2018 session that asks the DES to undertake broader PFC testing and cleanup at Coakley – and to ask the entities responsible for the pollution to pay for it.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has so far fallen short of the kind of action Messmer wants, instead opting for limited PFC testing.

Messmer is also proposing a ban on using recycled rubber tires in public playgrounds and artificial turf.

“We’re not allowed to put tires in landfills anymore, but we’re allowed to chop them up and put them on children’s playgrounds, and it doesn’t make sense,” she says. "When the tire pieces degrade, the dust that comes off of those can be high in things like lead and other chemicals that we know are not good for children to breathe.”  

She says she heard about the issue from constituents in Portsmouth, which is part of the Seacoast’s pediatric cancer cluster.

“It makes sense to cut down on as many exposures as we can to lower the possibilities of any more children getting cancer,” Messmer says. “I’m not saying it’s from playing on artificial turf fields, but you want to look at really what could be exposure potentials for our children.”

Messmer says similar recycled tire measures have passed in a few other states, as alternative fills made of fiber, cork or sand become more available.