Lawsuit wants tough PFAS drinking water standards scrapped

  • 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. A court will hear from a lawsuit in October 2019, seeking to scrap limits on a toxic chemicals in New Hampshire's public drinking water. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File) Jim Cole

  • Protesters gather in front of Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord on Friday ahead of a court hearing on PFAS. AP

Associated Press
Published: 10/18/2019 3:45:20 PM

Lawyers for 3M, a farmer and several others urged a judge Friday to scrap drinking water standards in the state that go far beyond federal limits for toxic chemicals once used in firefighting foam and nonstick cookware.

The group sued the state’s Department of Environmental Resources Commissioner Robert Scott last month, alleging the state didn’t follow the appropriate process in approving the standard earlier this year for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, collectively called PFAS. The state denied wrongdoing.

The New Hampshire standard limits 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 Environmental Protection Agency has advised for the chemicals.

Lawyer also contended in court Friday that the state hasn’t provided adequate funding for municipalities that violate the new standards, many of which could face a cost of millions of dollars to upgrade their water treatment facilities. Companies that spread municipal sludge on farm fields also expressed fears that the new standards could drive them out of business.

Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara said he would take under advisement a request by the plaintiffs for him to put the standards on hold. They went into effect last month.

“In the end, this is about the integrity of a process,” said Terri Pastori, one of the lawyers for several plaintiffs, which include the town of Plymouth, a farmer and a sludge company.

“The way this process was done is not consistent with the way we do things in New Hampshire,” she told the court. “It doesn’t hurt the state to make it go back and do what it should have done to begin with.”

Pastori and Mark Rouvalis, who was representing 3M, contend that the state didn’t do a proper cost-benefit analysis before proposing the new regulations this year. They also accused the state of not allowing adequate public comment before approving the standards.

The state has argued that it followed the rules in drafting the new standards and that the concerns about cost are being exaggerated.

Initially, municipalities will have to spend only several hundred dollars to test their water. More costly upgrades could follow if the tests find PFAS levels about the state standards.

Municipalities will be able to tap $6 million in state funding for PFAS for those upgrades and possibly an additional $280 million from a state’s groundwater and drinking water trust fund. The fund was created as following a settlement with Exxon Mobil over MTBE, a petroleum-based gasoline additive that has been used since the 1970s to reduce smog-causing emissions.

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. The contamination is the result of the chemicals leaking into groundwater from industrial facilities, as well as a former Air Force base.

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.

Outside the court, more than a dozen protesters, some with signs attacking 3M, argued the companies fighting the new standards were putting profits over the health of the state’s citizens.

“This is the height of corporate greed,” said Mindi Messmer, an environmental scientist and former legislator. “We want to know that when we turn on that tap, we don’t have to worry about the safety of the water.”

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