Our Turn: New Hampshire wants safer drinking water

Published: 7/16/2019 9:34:25 AM

A few weeks ago, the N.H. Department of Environmental Services issued its final proposal for enforceable drinking water standards for four toxins you probably have been hearing a lot about lately – perfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFAS. PFAS chemicals are in some firefighting foams and consumer products like raincoats, Teflon pans and coated papers.

But if you live in an area where your drinking water is contaminated with PFAS, we know that this contributes most of your exposure and this builds up over time with continued exposure to the toxins.

The problem is that we think there are about 4,700 of these PFAS chemicals potentially on the market right now. There has been little to no safety testing on almost all of them – except four. And what we know about those four is very concerning.

In June 2018, Senate Bill 309 was signed into law and required NHDES to create enforceable drinking water standards that are “protective of prenatal and early childhood exposure.” This is the most important part of the policy.

We know a lot now about the health effects of exposure to PFAS, like testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, altered immune system effects (reduced vaccine effectiveness) and preeclampsia from occupational studies and studies on populations near manufacturing facilities like the DuPont facility in Parkersburg, W.Va. We also know PFAS accumulates in your body and takes a long time to be eliminated when exposure ends.

Earlier this year, the state of Minnesota finalized a study that was based on early childhood exposure to contaminated breastmilk. The information indicated that babies who are breastfed have 4.4 times the serum concentration of PFAS in their bodies than bottle-fed babies after being exposed in utero. This spike of PFAS delivery happens during a critical neurodevelopmental window.

These facts are what resulted in the more stringent final drinking water proposal since the intent of the law specified that the drinking water standards needed to be protective of prenatal and early childhood exposure.

The reason the law included this provision was because these chemicals build up in the body. We are starting to learn about the long-term impacts on health from early exposures to PFAS to a baby’s immune system, neurodevelopment and reproduction. Since these chemicals stay in the human body for many years or decades, early exposure may have lifelong health impacts.

We are thankful that the NHDES has taken this new information and proposed lower enforceable PFAS standards for our drinking water. New Hampshire has the highest rates of children with cancer in the nation, and we must do everything we can to limit exposures to carcinogens in our drinking water and environment.

Join us in supporting this important proposal on Thursday at 9 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building on North Main Street in Concord. To find out how you can help, visit safewaternh.org.

(Richard Clapp is professor emeritus at Boston University School of Public Health. Mindi Messmer is a former N.H. House representative and is co-founder of the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance.)

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