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Health advocates unhappy with PFAS water standards

Foster's Daily Democrat - 1/3/2019

Jan. 03--PORTSMOUTH -- Health advocates are expressing disappointment at the drinking water quality standards state Department of Environmental Services officials proposed for four PFAS chemicals.

State Sen. Dr. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said his committee will hold a hearing to "understand the science behind why they came up with these numbers."

"I don't think I can come to any conclusions except that I'm a little surprised that the numbers are as high as they are considering what we've seen around the country," he said Thursday.

Sherman hopes DES's proposed drinking water standards are "not based on economic impacts. The lower they set the numbers the more expensive it is for remediation, but our first priority should be to protect human health, not how expensive it's going to be to remediate."

He plans to schedule a committee hearing and invite DES officials to address the issue to "make sure the health of New Hampshire residents is being protected."

Sherman's comments come a day after DES announced proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and Ambient Groundwater Quality Standards (AGQS) for four PFAS chemicals. DES said it used "the most recent and best science available" to come up with the proposed levels.

Thousands of people working at Pease International Tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day-care centers there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned Haven well up until its closure in 2014. The city closed the polluted well at the former base in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, in the well.

The EPA in May 2016 set permanent health advisories for PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA at 70 parts per trillion.

DES proposed lowering the drinking water quality standard of PFOA to 38 ppt, while keeping the PFOS standard at 70 ppt, and keeping the combined PFOS and PFOA level at 70 ppt. It also proposed setting the drinking water standard for perfluorohexanesulfonic acid, or PFHxS, which was found at high levels in Haven well, at 85 ppt, while establishing the level for perfluorononanoic acid, or PFNA at 23 ppt.

Sherman said the proposed levels raise "big concerns because they don't appear to be a significant improvement on the EPA's levels." He noted many other states, like New Jersey and Vermont set "much more protective numbers. These (NHDES numbers) don't sound particularly protective."

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body's hormones. PFAS are man-made chemicals used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s, according to ATSDR. They have been used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water and oil, ATSDR stated.

Investigators believe Haven well was contaminated by firefighting foam used at the former base.

Portsmouth activist Andrea Amico, co-founder of Testing for Pease, said she is "frustrated and disappointed" in the recommended maximum levels for four PFAS.

"The levels are high when compared to other states such as New York, Vermont and New Jersey. New Hampshire's levels do not seem protective enough of public health based on the science used by other states to establish their PFAS numbers," Amico said Thursday.

DES on Wednesday pledged to "release a summary report on the development of the drinking water standards" within the next few days that will include "an explanation of the health risk assessment for each compound and information on cost, benefit, occurrence and ability to detect and treat these chemicals."

Amico wants to see the full DES report to "better understand their rationale for their proposed levels." Two of her children and her husband were exposed to PFAS through Haven well.

"I remain extremely concerned that these legacy chemicals bioaccumulate in the body for decades and impact multiple systems of the human body causing serious adverse health effects," she said. "They also pass through the placenta and through breast milk and will impact future generations for years to come. NHDES should establish much lower PFAS levels for the entire class to be the most protective of human health."

Former state Rep. Mindi Messmer of Rye also was "disappointed in their proposed numbers.

"I would have liked to see them more in line with the full science-based standards that have led to other states setting dramatically lower levels," she said Thursday. "These are not helping to address the very high rates of pediatric and other cancers that we have in New Hampshire."

She pointed to Vermont's "very protective level" of 20 ppt for the combined total of five PFAS chemicals.

Messmer, an environmental activist and scientist, said DES's report could be released as soon as Friday. "I want to see their expanded documentation because one thing I have been troubled by" is when "people from the industry" downplayed the health effects of PFAS during hearings in Concord, she said.

"I want to make sure DES pays more attention to the health of New Hampshire residents and their concerns rather than industry groups," she said.

Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, in a recent op-ed stated "we may not be comfortable with the thought of any PFAS in our drinking water, but the reality is that safe levels based on a preponderance of scientific evidence are just that: safe."

Messmer, whose legislation compelled DES to set the standards for the four PFAS chemicals, said "in order to prevent childhood cancers and other types of cancers with high rates in New Hampshire, we should be looking at protecting public health rather than industry."

"I think the science is there that shows the levels need to be lower than what DES is proposing. The science is very strong," she said.

In December, several organizations, including Testing for Pease and the Conservation Law Foundation, petitioned state officials to treat PFAS compounds as a class of chemicals, rather than regulating them on a chemical-by-chemical basis. The groups sent a letter to DES Commissioner Robert Scott pushing the agency to "establish a drinking water standard" for PFAS chemicals that is "protective of public health."

DES will hold public hearings in early March on the proposed MCLs in southern New Hampshire at Pease International Tradeport and in Concord where the public can comment on the proposed PFAS levels.

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(c)2019 the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)

Visit the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.) at www.fosters.com

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