By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – A Senate committee voted 5 to 0 Tuesday that an amended Senate Bill 287 ought to pass setting drinking water contaminant levels for four “forever chemicals.” The bill will next go before the full Senate for a vote.
As amended, the bill would set state PFAS maximum contaminant levels at the same levels recommended by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services in 2019.
Implementation has been held up in litigation brought by PFAS manufacturer 3M and others.
Republicans expressed concern that the bill – if left to stand alone – would pass the costs for clean-up to meet the drinking water standards on to local municipalities and others without state help.
But Democrats worried that putting the two together might be harder to get passed because of the associated costs.
However, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously to pass the standards bill and agreed to take up the sister bill, Senate Bill 496, next Tuesday.
State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, who is sponsoring the financial bill, said it would be strategically important to keep his bill separate. But Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said he did not want the citizens to be “left holding the bag” on paying for remediation of water systems that cannot meet the new standards.
State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, committee chair, noted that would be premature as a public hearing on Senate Bill 496 has not been held.
However, she left open the potential for the two bills – one policy, the other funding – to be married so that as much as $60 million or more could be found in the state’s next budget to help municipalities and private water sources meet the new standards.
Calling them “forever chemicals,” which are linked to various types of cancers, state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, a gastroenterologist, sponsored the amendment to the bill which requires the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Services to revise rules relative to perfluorinated chemical contamination in drinking water.
It would codify standards already set by DES last year and would become among the most stringent in the country, if not the world, said state Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren.
Giuda noted that some of his constituents, including the Plymouth Village Water and Sewer District, are now suing the state over the standards and may be premature. One of the companies that manufactures the chemicals is challenging the cost-benefit analysis of the new standards in court and there has been no settlement.
However, a possible settlement could help pay for remediation, lawmakers observed.
The bill would set limits below the federal advisory of 70 parts per trillion to 12 for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOAs).
In June, Merrimack Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara ruled that New Hampshire would have to stop enforcing the DES limits at the end of 2019 because a lawsuit challenging them was far from settled. Manufacturer 3M argued in court that the state did not use proper science to come to those limits for levels for Perfluorochemicals.
Barbara T. Reid of the New Hampshire Municipal Association was concerned about the costs associated with meeting a new standard and charged that without state funding, it could financially harm the very people who are being physically harmed by the chemicals.
After the vote, Sen. Sherman said: “Despite setbacks from the ongoing lawsuit filed by PFAS manufacturer 3M, we must remain committed to protecting safe drinking water, public safety, and our environment. We cannot wait for another public health emergency to take action.”
Shelagh Connelly, president of Resource Management Inc. of Holderness and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the bill is premature. She said that the pass-along costs to consumers would be significant and that “we need to get it right,” to fully understand what standards should be.
Clark Freise, assistant DES commissioner, said the decision to set the standards is based on hundreds of studies over the years about what would be considered a safe level in the human body and not on one or two studies as was alleged by opponents.
High levels of PFAS have been discovered in water in Portsmouth, Merrimack, Litchfield, East Kingston, Stratham.
The bill would impact landfill sites, hazardous waste sites, and wastewater disposal sites in addition to drinking water. The bill would take effect 90 days after passage.