Data Will Lead the Way, How Wide Spread is the Contamination?

April 15, 2016

 

by Len Lathrop

Two hundred sixty-five residents attended a second meeting that was held last Thursday, April 7, at the Campbell High School Auditorium.  Questions far outnumbered answers, but the NH DES appears to be taking every step they can to test water wells, and adjust the testing area as more results are returned from the testing facilities.  They say that they will let the results of the well tests tell them where, and in which direction, to go if they need to expand the area of concern.  On Thursday they announced the addition of the following streets:  Courtland, Lance, Ronisa, and Robyn avenues; Jeff, Mike, and Sybil lanes; Ivy and Acorn ways; Oak and Garden drives and from 381-450 Charles Bancroft Highway to those within the one-mile radius of the Saint Gobain manufacturing plant.

The distribution of free cases of bottled water began Sunday, and continued Monday, at the Litchfield Transfer Station and Recycling Center for 400 Litchfield and Merrimack residents in the affected area.

While Saint-Gobain CEO, Tom Kinisky, has stopped short of acknowledging the firm is directly responsible for polluting the roughly 400 wells surrounding the plant, he said investigations are under way to find the cause.  In the meantime, he has focused publicly on working with the DES to find answers, underscoring the company’s “No. 1 priority” of “relieving” residents’ anxieties.

The best place to ask your question is at www.des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pfoa.htm, or by contacting James Martin at the State Department of Environmental Services at 271-3710 or james.martin@des.nh.gov.

While there are questions in this week’s “Thumbs” column, several were brought up in Thursday’s meeting.  The Assistant Commissioner, Clark Freise, answered that the water in the Merrimack River is the supply for the City of Lowell, Mass. drinking water and is continually monitored, and nothing more than background contamination has been found.

Freise talked in some detail about PFOA being absorbed in plants foods that people eat.  He mentioned corn as an example:  the toxin can be found in the stacks and the husk on the plant, but has not been found in the kernels.  In the root vegetables, once all the dirt is removed and the vegetable is peeled, the inside is eatable; the problem arises in green lefty vegetables like lettuce and spinach.  While the growing season is just starting, the hope is that the DES and EPA will have more informative data about transfer of FPOAs from the ground.

On Tuesday, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Gina McCarthy, to discuss the elevated levels of the chemical PFOA detected in the wells of multiple New Hampshire communities.  During their lengthy discussion, Administrator McCarthy assured Sen. Shaheen that the long-term health advisory standard for PFOA will be released soon, and will be an important step in a broader initiative by federal agencies to study the health implications of PFOA.

“Communities in New Hampshire must be able to trust their water supply,” said Shaheen.  “Today, I had a productive conversation with Administrator McCarthy and received assurances that she was marshalling federal resources to provide these communities with timely and thoroughly researched information.  I will continue to work closely with federal agencies to ensure that they are responding to this contamination with the urgency that it deserves.”

So much is unknown about the long-term effects, and what remedial actions will be needed to remove the PFOA from the water and soil in Litchfield.