My Turn: Industry does not have the right to poison our water

For the Monitor
Published: 8/3/2019 12:10:32 AM
Modified: 8/3/2019 12:10:18 AM

If you live in Lebanon, you may not know that some town officials are threatening legal action over new drinking water standards meant to protect us from toxins.

Some might want to hit pause before jumping on the Business and Industry Association and N.H. Municipal Association bandwagon and consider that as elected officials they are beholden to the people who elected them, not polluters or corporate special interests.

The town of Lebanon is polluting the groundwater around a solid-waste facility in violation of state standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) but also for arsenic and 1,4-dioxane, which are known or suspected carcinogens. The wastewater treatment facility is also discharging PFAS into the Connecticut River at a concentration of about 15 parts per trillion (ppt). At 12 ppt, the state of Michigan would tell you not to eat the fish.

On July 18, the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules met and approved the N.H. Department of Environmental Services rules for PFAS standards and clean drinking water. The committee acts on whether proposals comply with the law, it does not act on policy as stated in Section 301.02, Testimony on Proposed Rules and Adopted Rules: “(b) since the Committee is not a policy committee, testimony shall not be considered relevant that does not focus upon issues in the rules.”

JLCAR is not even supposed to hear policy testimony. It acted well within its procedures on July 18. The N.H. Attorney General’s Office weighed in on the rulemaking, stating the NHDES proposal is “reasonable and lawful.” The new enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS go into effect on Sept. 30. The BIA and NHMA are grasping at any straw in order to kill clean drinking water standards.

We know a lot now about the health effects of exposure to PFAS, like testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, autoimmune effects (impact on vaccine effectiveness) and preeclampsia. We also know PFAS accumulates in your body and takes a long time to be eliminated.

The NHDES rightly lowered its proposal after the state of Minnesota finalized a study that was based on early childhood exposure. The study found that babies receive very high concentrations of PFAS before and just after they are born, during critical developmental windows, that are likely to have lifelong impacts.

The law directing the clean water drinking standards specifically references that enforceable standards were required to be “protective of prenatal and early childhood exposure.” If the NHDES did not revise its proposal after the Minnesota study was published, we would have had legal grounds to intervene.

We still disagree with some key assumptions made and could argue that the standards should have been even lower than proposed by the NHDES.

In addition, 1,605 signatures were gathered by New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance from voters who supported stricter drinking water standards for PFAS toxins in our water.

New Hampshire has the highest rates of children with cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer and esophageal cancer in the nation.

The people have spoken and the elected members of JLCAR listened.

Industry does not have the right to poison us to make money. We don’t want these toxins in our water. We must act to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases.

(Mindi Messmer is a former N.H. House representative and is co-founder of the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance.)

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