Sununu Signs Bills on PFAS, Cancer Treatment Coverage for Firefighters

Jul 10, 2018

N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, signs a bill during a ceremony Tuesday at the Portsmouth Fire Department.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Governor Chris Sununu was on the Seacoast today, signing two bills dealing with chemical contamination and health risks. 

One bill could lead to stricter limits on PFAS chemicals in drinking water.  

Sununu spoke at Jenness Beach in Rye, near the Coakley Landfill Superfund site and Pease Tradeport.

Both are PFAS hotspots that have raised health concerns for neighbors.  

“We want to make sure that the problems of today don’t become a crisis of tomorrow. We’ve seen that happen in other parts of the country – that is not going to happen here," Sununu said.  

The bill lets the state hire a toxicologist and a health risk assessor to dig into the science of PFAS and create new limits for it in drinking water. 

It also lets officials look at pollution in a new way -- regulating any contaminants in air that can settle into groundwater. That’s what happened around the Saint Gobain factory in Merrimack two years ago.

Environmental Services commissioner Robert Scott says all this is important progress on the PFAS issue. But he says he knows it doesn’t alleviate all the uncertainty for industry trying to plan remediation, or families worried about their health.

“So we’re in this limbo which is not good for anybody, but unfortunately, I think we’re going to be there for a while.”

New Hampshire may also take cues from new federal regulations on PFAS, which are due out in the next few years.

Sununu also signed a bill letting firefighters qualify faster for workers' compensation after a cancer diagnosis, by making it assumed that their cancer is work-related. 

The bill also creates a fund, made up of insurer fees, to help firefighters pay for their medical treatment.

Sununu checks out a fire engine in Portsmouth.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Diane Hartford says that would have helped her son, Jeff Bokum. He worked for the Portsmouth Fire Department for nearly a decade, and died of cancer six years ago.

 

“It’s long overdue. These guys put their life on the line, and I know with my son, from the day he was diagnosed to the day he died was six months.”

The majority of states have laws presuming a firefighter’s cancer is occupational.

Firefighters across the country experience disproportionately high cancer rates, due to toxins in burning materials, as well as PFAS and other chemicals that are in some firefighting equipment.   

Governor Sununu calls New Hampshire’s new law a victory, nearly three decades after a similar measure signed by his father, former Gov. John Sununu, was ruled unconstitutional.