ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION? NOT IN NEW HAMPSHIRE.
There has been a lot of misreporting on the failure of House Bill 463 last week. This bill was intended to provide New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) with the tools necessary to regulate toxins in air emissions that contaminate soil and groundwater.
A senate amendment to the bill intended to compel the NHDES to take another look at water quality standards for perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in groundwater and drinking water. On May 31, 2016, the NHDES adopted an ambient groundwater quality standard matching the USEPA lifetime health advisory for two of the PFCs of 70 parts per trillion (ppt); a reduction from 600 ppt prior to that date. The amendment says the commissioner will “initiate rulemaking to adopt a maximum contaminant limit (MCL) for perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) for public water systems…shall consider the standards of other states, including the science considered by states with standards lower than those contained in health advisories from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The commissioner shall adopt MCLs [and ambient groundwater quality standards] that reasonably protect public health, particularly prenatal and early childhood health, and that are reasonably supported by peer reviewed science and independent or government agency studies.” The amendment received two unanimous New Hampshire Senate committee votes and two full Senate floor unanimous votes prior to being sent to Committee of Conference by the House. A similar bill received a landslide vote of 335 to 29 in favor on the House floor on the policy before being retained in House Finance due to legislative concerns about potential cost impacts to municipalities.
At the end of the first Committee of Conference meeting, House Republicans left and refused to come back to the table to negotiate on the amendment the next day. Republican and Democratic Senators Bradley-R, Feltes-D and Innis-R held firm to the amendment and kept trying to get the House members back to the table. Ultimately, Senate efforts were unsuccessful and House Republicans, two of which represent Merrimack where there is a significant release of PFCs, killed the bill Thursday afternoon. This occurred just as a recent study determined that New Hampshire ties with Alabama for the second worst PFC contamination in drinking water in the country.
Concurrently, scientists from all over the world convened last week at Northeastern University in Boston to discuss the current state of the science with regard to PFCs. The attendees discussed the DuPont C8 Science Panel study of 70,000 participants which clearly showed health effects from exposure to 50 ppt and probable links to; kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension (including preeclampsia) and hypercholesterolemia.
During the Northeastern Conference, Alyssa Schuren, former Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said households located in Bennington whose water contained PFCs in excess of the Vermont regulatory threshold received bottled water in response to the Saint Gobain release. The regulatory threshold in Vermont (20 ppt) is much lower than the federal and New Hampshire criteria (70 ppt). Former Commissioner Schuren further stated that she felt that their response did not go far enough.
Children in the New Hampshire Seacoast area who attended daycare at Pease Tradeport or who’s mothers worked at the former Air Force Base, have elevated blood levels of PFCs up to 4 to 6 times the national average, from exposure to contaminated drinking water. In 2016, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) determined the existence of CDC-defined pediatric cancer cluster in a 5-town area which consists of two different types of rare cancers. Recently, DHHS admitted that rates of pediatric brain cancer exceed 4 times the expected rate. It is not likely that we will be able to tie these rare cancers to a specific cause, however, it is clear that at least some of these children have been exposed to toxins in their drinking water.
Health studies in people in Merrimack and those exposed to contaminated drinking water at Pease Tradeport are being delayed by federal and state health officials. Therefore, we don’t have data to prove that rates of illness are higher in these areas but anecdotal information suggests that people are exhibiting health effects found in the C8 Science Panel Study referenced above.
The amendment received opposition came from the very people who are tasked to protect the health of our citizens including regulators in the House of Representatives and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. The amendment was attacked by big business and lobbyists including the Business and Industry Association which represents some of the biggest PFC polluters in the state including Saint Gobain, Lydall Performance Materials and Textile Coatings.
This is an emerging crisis and citizens of New Hampshire deserve an approach that is precautionary and proactive rather than responsive. Other states like Vermont (20 ppt), New Jersey (40 ppt and 14 ppt, proposed), Pennsylvania (5 ppt, proposed) and Minnesota just issued revised standards (27 ppt for PFOS and 35 ppt for PFOA). This quote from Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger perfectly sums it up “We err on the side of caution, and that’s sort of the tradition we have here in Minnesota to really protect the most vulnerable as best we can,” Ehlinger said. The amendment to HB463 that died in Committee of Conference was intended to follow the lead of other states and err on the side of caution.