Bill to codify strict PFAS limits moves ahead in Senate

  • FILE - In this Friday Jan. 7, 2011, file photo, water flows from a water fountain at the Boys and Girls Club in Concord, N.H. The New Hampshire Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, to several bills meant to address concerns about contamination in the state's drinking water from a class of toxic chemicals known collectively as PFAS. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 6/2/2020 4:03:37 PM

New Hampshire could have some of the strongest limitations on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances codified into law in the country, if a bill heading through the State Senate makes it across the finish line. 

An effort by Sens. Tom Sherman and Jeb Bradley to add tough new water contamination standards into state statute got the green light of a key committee Tuesday morning.

The legislation would cement into law new standards set by New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services last year, which set a series of state “maximum contaminant levels” for four variants of PFAS: PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and PFNA.

“What we’re finding is the science is telling us what we thought the science would tell us, and that’s that we need to tighten the standards,” said Sherman. 

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been linked to health conditions and even cancer. The chemicals are difficult to break down and have been detected in the water of numerous New Hampshire communities in the southeast.

But despite a bipartisan effort to move forward with the standards, they were struck down last year by the Merrimack County Superior Court, after the Plymouth Village Water and Sewer District and the company 3M sued the state to stop them.

Superior Court Judge Robert McNamara sided with the plaintiffs’ concern that the rules were rushed without public comment and that not enough money had been set aside to allow towns to enact the standards. 

The new bill seeks to bypass that decision, which has been appealed to the Supreme Court, by putting the standards into statute. 

And it attempts to mitigate some of the costs to towns by creating a $50 million fund to help cities and towns pay for the remediation necessary. That $50 million would be taken out by the state as credit; senators say it could be repaid through a settlement in a federal lawsuit brought by the state against 3M over PFAS contamination.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 5-0 to approve the bill, as part of a broader package relating to water legislation. The bill now moves forward to the full Senate, which is expected to convene in coming weeks.

For the Plymouth Village Water and Sewer District, the bill is an improvement over last year’s department rule, Superintendent Jason Randall said Tuesday. 

“I applaud the committee for taking PFAS on,” Randall said. “This is a challenging topic as you know.”

But Randall said he still had qualms. He warned that the $50 million loan fund might need to be increased in order to more fully help towns and prevent water and sewer bills from increasing for end users. The proposed allocation might not cover the cost of treating sewer water, he said.

And he said that the bill should be clearer about the legal liabilities for municipalities, under the bill’s “responsible party clause.”

“Overall I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “But we definitely need to consider all the costs and benefits of this bill.”

Bradley argued that the $50 million bond would be sufficient to “at least cover the initial few years of implementing these standards.”

And he noted that the standards for chemicals in wastewater have not been set yet, so towns will not be on the hook for those costs.

The loans should be covered down the line if and when New Hampshire wins a settlement in the federal case, he added. “Much of the loans that would go out to communities hopefully would be forgiven through this process,” he said. 

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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