Some Merrimack Public Water Customers To Receive PFOA Blood Tests

Sep 16, 2016

Brendan DeKemper grew up drinking public water in Merrimack. He hopes to get his blood tested, to try to understand if PFOA could have caused his thyroid disorder, known as "Graves Disease."
Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR

The state will offer blood tests to a random selection of residents who use  city water in Merrimack. That’s despite the fact that public water in Merrimack is currently below the state’s enforceable threshold for PFOA contamination.

Surrounding the Saint-Gobain plastics plant in Merrimack, over 600 private wells have been tested for the chemical PFOA, and more than a third have turned up with high enough contamination to qualify for bottled water, new water infrastructure, and blood tests paid for by Saint-Gobain.

Until recently, the 7,500 homes and businesses with public water in Merrimack haven’t qualified for any of that. Now, the state epidemiologist Ben Chan says the Department of Health and Human Services has a new plan.

“We’re planning on randomly picking sampling households and offering testing,” he says, “so we can get a better idea of exposure of residents in Merrimack that are on the public water system, and provide more information to the community about potential levels of exposure.”

DHHS has not said how volunteers will be chosen – or when testing will begin.

The new testing arrangement is good news for many residents on public water here, including Carol DiPirro. “I worry, a lot,” she says. On her coffee table, she has printouts of all the diseases linked to PFOA -- from thyroid disease, which she already has -- to kidney cancer, liver cancer, and ulcerative colitis.

She’s worried about her own health, her husband’s and her teenage son, who she raised in this house.

The science around PFOA is controversial. While the feds have determined that it’s safe to have up to 70 parts per trillion PFOA in drinking water, policymakers in Vermont have concluded no more than 20 ppt is safe, and a committee of researchers in New Jersey now says nothing over 14 ppt should be consumed on a regular basis.

“To me, 70 seems like somebody kind of took a dart and threw it,” DiPirro says. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of real science protecting us.”

Since March, residents in Merrimack have been drinking water from wells that average above Vermont’s and New Jersey’s recommendation, but below the federal advisory.  Before March, another well was online with water above 90 ppt – 30 percent over the federal advisory level.

These numbers are not comforting to DiPirro. She thinks everyone on public water here should be able to get their blood tested. The state’s decision to start testing a random sampling of public water customers, however – that, she says, is a good step in the right direction.