Drinking Water

October 10, 2017 Public Meeting with DES and DHHS can be viewed online

This meeting was a follow on to the individual “Office Hours” held in Merrimack in September. On the dais were Public Health Director Lisa Morris, Dr. Benjamin Chan (both DHHS) and Assistant DES Commissioner Clark Freise. Approximately 100 people attended in person along with Merrimack’s eight State Representatives, Senator Daniels, Town Council and MVD Commissioners. Several staff members from state organizations also attended. The meeting lasted three hours.

In 2016, St. Gobain Performance Plastics reported to the NH Deportment of Environmental Services that they had detected perfluorooctanaic acid in their water bubblers. They had been testing for this PFOA since they had plants in Vermont and New York that had been linked to similar contamination. The Merrimack Village District supplies water to St. Gobain. MVD wells #4 and #5 were quickly taken off line as tests revealed that those wells had a level of contamination above the US Environmental Protection Agency limit of 70 parts per trillion. DES started an aggressive program of well testing in a radius around the St. Gobain plant and started supplying bottled drinking water to households with contaminated water above the 70 ppt level. The Merrimack Village District (MVD) now supplies water within safe drinking water standards using other wells. They are also in the process of establishing additional supplies with new wells. DES has been negotiating with St. Gobain in efforts to have them pay for remediation of and/or filtration systems for wells #4 and #5. Additional households in Merrimack, Litchfield, Bedford and Amherst will be added to public water system extensions in these towns. “Point of Use” filters e.g. at the kitchen sink, and “point of entry” systems (whole house)are being considered for places where a community water system connection is not feasible.

In the NH House of Representatives, we heard several bills related to these issues as well as water contamination on the seacoast attributed to Pease Air Force Base (now Pease Tradeport) and the (now closed) Coakley Landfill in Greenland. Two bills stand out. House Bill 485 relative to standards for emerging contaminants in drinking water and HB 463 regulating groundwater pollution caused by polluting emissions in the air and relative to standards for emerging contaminants in drinking water
The House voted by a two thirds majority to send HB485 to the Finance Committee which retained the bill for additional work. In a sleight of hand move to override that 2/3 vote, the Senate added HB485 language to HB463, which then failed in a committee of conference with House committee members feeling an obligation to uphold the previously voted House positions. HB485 will be reported out of committee by Novemeber 1, and will go to the floor in January. The language of HB463 will also come back in 2018 as the House thought this was an important issue to support.
Dartmouth College offers pro bono, unbiased research services to the legislatures of New Hampshire and Vermont. There is considerable literature in place outlining various water testing studies. My awareness of these is that they tend to focus on numbers, parts per billion, trillion, etc, but do not offer regulatory solutions that are practical to implement. In August 2017, I requested their assistance in this matter. They are currently considering requests from NH and VT and will announce their selected projects this fall, perhaps in September. There was agreement that this was a very current and important issue for both states.