New Hampshire Senate supports tough PFAS standards

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The state Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to several bills meant to address concerns about contamination from a class of toxic chemicals in New Hampshire’s drinking water.

The chamber unanimously voted to put into law the standards that were put forth last year by the state Department of Environmental Services for potentially harmful chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known collectively as PFAS. The standards limit one chemical to a maximum of 12 parts per trillion and another to 15 parts per trillion, far lower than the 70 parts per trillion the federal Environmental Protection Agency has advised for the chemicals.

The bill was crafted in response to a lawsuit filed by 3M, a farmer and several others who are trying to block the standards from taking effect. A judge in the case issued a temporary injunction in December that prevents the standards from being enforced.

But if the bill becomes law, it would sidestep that injunction and allow the standards to be enforced —- just as they are for lead and arsenic.

One of the supporters of tough standards, Mindi Messmer, co-founder of the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance, welcomed the vote. She said the bill circumvents “3M’s unseemly attempt to block NH citizens from clean safe drinking water when they turn on the faucet.”

But a leading business group in the state, the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, said it was disappointed with the vote and felt the issue should continue to be litigated in the courts.

“Instead of letting the appeals process play out, legislators are engaged in an end run around the court,” BIA President Jim Roche said in a statement. “The legal challenge in court should be allowed to finish so that the people of New Hampshire can be sure the strictest (standards) in the country are justified and not simply an emotional overreaction.”

A lawyer representing 3M in the lawsuit over the drinking water standards did not respond to a request for comment. But in the past, 3M said that “acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS” and would “vigorously defend its environmental stewardship.”

Another bill that passed unanimously sets up a $50 million fund to help communities pay for complying with the news standards, including testing water, installing monitoring wells and upgrading water treatment systems.

The money could be paid back if the state reaches a settlement with the eight companies, including 3M and the DuPont Co., that it has sued, accusing them of being responsible for damage caused by PFAS.

“This is about the communities and families that have been suffering and wondering about their water,” Sen. David Watters, a Democrat from Dover, said in support of the bill.

Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Democrat from Portsmouth, said the bill recognizes that the state needed to help these communities that are not to blame for the contamination.

“It is absolutely essential that we recognize the cost of remediating this contamination for these communities would result in dramatically higher water and sewer rates for end users,” she said.

Margaret Byrnes, the executive director of the NH Municipal Association, said this addressed the communities’ concern about the impact of addressing the PFAS contamination at the local level.

“From the beginning, our issue has never been the standards themselves, but the cost of compliance,” Byrnes said in an email interview. “The Senate has taken significant step to address both the health concerns and the cost concerns for our municipalities and our citizens.”

The standards were inspired by widespread PFAS contamination across the state.

More than 700 homes in New Hampshire whose drinking water was contaminated by PFAS have been connected to new water. The state estimates more than 100,000 other people eventually could be affected.

Studies have found potential links between high levels in the body of one form of the contaminants and a range of illnesses, including kidney cancer, increased cholesterol levels and problems in pregnancies. In the case of New Hampshire, the state lowered the standards it proposed after reviewing a study that found toddlers could be exposed to PFAS through breast milk.