Water Contamination

Jason Moon for NHPR

State and federal environmental officials held a meeting in North Hampton Wednesday night to update residents on efforts to address contamination at the former Coakley landfill site.

For three hours, scientists with the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Services laid out the work that has been done and that will be done to monitor and address contaminated water at a former landfill on the Seacoast.

Ceyhun (Jay) Isik / Flickr Creative Commons

A Senate advisory commission next month will choose to fund several major projects improving drinking water across New Hampshire communities.

More than $200 million from a settlement with Exxon-Mobil over MTBE contamination has been set aside for funding these projects.

Robert Scott is the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services. He’s also on the Drinking Water and Groundwater Advisory Commission. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with him about issues with drinking water in the state.


NH Department of Health and Human Services

State health officials say residents on public water in Merrimack and Bedford have been exposed to perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, at rates higher than the general population, but lower than in some other exposed communities.

Blood tests from more than 200 residents in the two towns found levels of the chemical known as PFOA were roughly double what's found in the general population.

The contamination is thought to have come from a nearby Saint-Gobain performance plastics plant.

Jason Moon for NHPR

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency said the Coakley Landfill, a superfund site in North Hampton, does not currently pose an unacceptable risk to human health.

That message came as a surprise to some members of a task force charged with investigating a cancer cluster on the Seacoast. They have been arguing for months that the EPA needs to be more proactive in addressing contamination at the site.

NHPR’s Seacoast Reporter Jason Moon recently sat down with All Things Considered host Sally Hirsh-Dickinson to talk more about this.

Seacoast lawmakers want to take steps to ensure that a chemical found in water near the Pease International Tradeport doesn't cause problems elsewhere.

The Portsmouth Herald reports that two bills proposed by Democratic state Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye would add regulations and create limits for so-called PFCs detected in local drinking water.

PFCs are considered possible carcinogens and are found in household items like Teflon.

A state representative is calling for the resignation of New Hampshire's state epidemiologist. At issue is the validity of a new study about the health effects of exposure to certain water contaminants.

Democratic rep Mindi Messmer of Rye and state epidemiologist Ben Chan are both members of a task force investigating a cancer cluster identified on the Seacoast last year.

Cleaning Up New Hampshire's Contaminated Water

Aug 11, 2017
US Air Force

Last spring, the chemical PFOA was found in unusually high levels in wells in Southern New Hampshire, and, before that, on the Seacoast. Since then, the state has allocated millions to study and fix these sites, but critics worry the guidelines for contaminated water, and the work being done, aren't enough.  


Emily Corwin / NHPR

Over a year ago, residents near Merrimack, New Hampshire learned their drinking water had been contaminated by emissions from a plastics plant owned by the multinational company, Saint-Gobain.  

More than a year later, some residents in Merrimack say state and federal officials haven’t done enough to protect them from the contamination. Now, a few are taking things into their own hands, going door to door.

Howard Weiss-Tisman / Vermont Public Radio

A settlement between the state of Vermont and the plastics company Saint Gobain is catching the attention of some in New Hampshire who say the settlement should change the conversation around water quality here.

Efforts to clean up PFCs at the former Pease Air Force Base will be the topic of a meeting tonight in Portsmouth. Air Force officials plan to give an update on where those efforts stand, 3 years after the contamination was first discovered.

Josh Rogers for NHPR

Governor Sununu signed three bills having to do with water quality last week. 

Two new laws will address water contamination from perfluorichemicals – those so called “Teflon toxins” found on the Seacoast and in Southern New Hampshire.

One will allocate $5 million dollars from the state’s water trust to remedy contamination in Amherst. A year ago, the state found perfluorichemicals in private wells surrounding the former TCI plastics plant there.

Via USGS.gov

State and federal environmental officials are calling for new warning signs to be installed near a superfund site on the Seacoast.

Regulators are asking the group that manages the former Coakley Landfill in Greenland to install the signs at a brook near the site. They want to warn people that getting in the water may expose them to an industrial chemical with uncertain health effects.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen is pushing for a national health study on the health effects of perfluorochemicals – the same chemicals that contaminated drinking water at the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth.

In an amendment to a $700 billion military spending bill, Senator Sheehan is hoping to fund a $7 million national health study about the effects of perfluorochemicals, or PFCS.

Ian Sane / flickr, creative commons

A bill that advocates say would have improved water quality standards in the state will not become law this session.

The bill would have directed the Department of Environmental Services to conduct a review of the safe drinking water standards for perfluorochemicals.

These industrial chemicals have been found in communities across the state – including near the Saint-Gobain plant in Merrimack and the former Pease Airforce Base in Portsmouth.

Via USGS.gov

The city of Portsmouth and the town of Greenland are asking the state to help pay for public water at homes whose private wells may be at risk of water contamination.

Residents living near the Coakley Landfill in Greenland fear their private wells are drawing contaminated water from the superfund site which received municipal and industrial waste in the 70s and 80s.

Officials in Greenland had previously asked Portsmouth, which operates the only public well in Greenland, to extend water lines to about 300 homes near the landfill.

Four wells in a neighborhood in Windham contain elevated levels of PFCs, a chemical contaminant, according to test results released Friday by the state’s Department of Environmental Services.

Ian Sane / flickr, creative commons

Lawmakers in the state senate heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would force the state to lower the safe drinking standards for perfluorochemicals, a water contaminant.

Right now the state Department of Environmental Services uses a threshold of 70 parts per trillion when testing drinking water for PFCS, an industrial chemical used in non-stick pans and other products. That limit is based on the federal standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/autophotomoto/">autophotomoto</a> / Flickr

Saint-Gobain, a multinational plastics company, has agreed to pay for the design efforts to extend public water lines in Bedford.  The new water mains will connect to homes with wells contaminated by perfluorichemicals, most likely released from Saint-Gobain’s smokestacks. 

Via PortsmouthWastewater.com

-- Updated 4/13 to include statement from ATSDR --

People exposed to high levels of PFCs at the former Pease Air Force Base are expressing frustration over how long it’s taking a federal agency to investigate the health impacts of the contamination.

After the chemicals were found in a well that supplied drinking water at Pease in 2014, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, was told to investigate.

  A single class-action lawsuit against Saint-Gobain – a multinational plastics company with a plant in Merrimack – will replace four cases originally filed separately in Federal Court. The plaintiffs all claim Saint-Gobain polluted their drinking water by emitting chemicals known as perfluorichemicals, or PFCs.

A federal judge had ordered the consolidation.

The new, combined lawsuit names 20 plaintiffs, represented by five law firms. They seek compensation for damages including declining property values, medical costs, attorney fees, and numerous other claims.

Joe Shlabotnik/flickr

The state Department of Environmental Services says a proposal to set stricter limits for certain contaminants in drinking water could cost the state over 30 million dollars.

Ceyhun (Jay) Isik / https://flic.kr/p/cG7qFL

Preliminary results are in from blood testing provided to Southern New Hampshire residents exposed to contaminated well-water.

The contamination was discovered last March, in ground water near a plastics plant in Merrimack, called Saint-Gobain. Blood tests began in June, and now the first 147 results are in.

The contaminant is not well understood, so it makes sense to interpret the results by comparison.

Allison Quantz for NHPR

Dartmouth College says it has spent $8.4 million cleaning up contamination on property where scientists once dumped carcasses of lab animals in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Ivy League school began cleaning up the site in 2011 and realized a year later that at least one carcinogen had leaked into the groundwater. Last year, it determined one family's well water was contaminated.

Dartmouth provided the family with bottled water and sampled over 100 drinking wells in the neighborhood.

Via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/7MMKBg

The well serving Kingston NH’s Fire Department has tested above the state’s standard for PFOA, a water contaminant also found at the former Pease Air Force Base, and surrounding the Saint-Gobain plastics plant in Merrimack.

The state tested the Kingston Fire Department’s well water first in September. That was after the town began offering the water to residents whose wells are failing due to the drought.  This week, a second water test confirmed: Kingston’s fire department’s well is contaminated with PFOA, at a level over the state’s regulatory standard.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) will soon begin to connect 360 Litchfield homes to the Pennichuck public water system. The new water pipes are meant to help homeowners with contaminated wells.

The multinational corporation Saint-Gobain is paying for all of the planning and construction.

Saint-Gobain is the likely source of the water contaminant, PFOA, identified in several southern New Hampshire drinking water sources this year.

Dennis Amith via Flickr CC

Dartmouth College officials say a second private well near a Hanover farm where contaminated laboratory animals were buried in the 1960s and 1970s has tested positive for a toxic chemical believed to have migrated from the site.

John K via Flickr CC

Two-hundred randomly selected public water customers in Merrimack will get their blood tested for PFOA. That’s the contaminant found in drinking water near the Saint-Gobain plastics plant.

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.

Comstock/Thinkstock

As New Hampshire regulators consider adopting the EPA’s PFOA health advisory as the state’s enforceable standard, a New Jersey committee has recommended setting a much lower standard in that state.

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