The U.S. is the largest manufacturer of chemical products in the world, and it’s starting to become a problem. Water contamination has increased noticeably across the country — most memorably with Flint, Michigan — but a quick Google search turns up a shocking number of states suffering from toxic chemicals being leeched into their water supply from nearby industrial and manufacturing plants, including military bases.
New Hampshire is the latest addition to the growing list, with its resident plastics plant being held responsible for the discovery of perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) in the southern half of the state’s water supply. PFAS are actually all around us — in common household products, fire-fighting foam, even in the packaging our food comes in — but the problem comes from overexposure; when a monitoring well next door to Saint-Gobain plastics plant recorded perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, a kind of PFAS) at 19,000 ppt (parts per trillion), the state knew they had to take action.
U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, along with Representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster, sent an urgent letter to Patrick Breysse, director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), requesting assistance from the federal government to measure the severity and depth of exposure. The letter reads:
“We request that this work be expanded to include a more in-depth evaluation of community exposure, including biological monitoring of community members and an assessment of adverse health outcomes and health trends. In addition, we would also request that ATSDR assess the feasibility of convening a Community Assistance Panel or similar community engagement forum for the Merrimack area.”
There was a keen interest in protecting the local Merrimack schools from contamination due to the impact PFAS can have on children, so voters approved $128,000 to install filtration systems in drinking fountains and certain faucets. Saint-Gobain had already spent $14 million in remedial work — the measured PFOA level at the school was far below the state standard — but given the fact that PFAS can cause liver and kidney cancer, decreased fertility, increased chance of developing thyroid problems, and decreased immune response to vaccines in children, the community was not about to take the risk.
The call for federal aid seems to be entirely founded, especially when you consider the fact the around 36% of New Hampshire residents get their drinking water from private wells — that’s nearly 500,000 people who could have suffered the physical effects of PFAS contamination.