Column: Industry must stop poisoning us for profit

For the Valley News
Published: 8/10/2019 10:30:11 PM

If you live in Lebanon, you may have heard that some city officials are threatening legal action over new drinking water standards meant to protect us from toxins in our water. The Business and Industry Association and the New Hampshire Municipal Association have also raised concerns.

Some might want to hit pause before jumping on that bandwagon, and elected officials should consider that they are beholden to the people who elected them, not to polluters or corporate special interests.

The city of Lebanon’s solid waste facility is polluting the groundwater in violation of state standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, and also for arsenic and 1,4-dioxane, which are known or suspected carcinogens. The city’s 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 New Hampshire 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. In fact, by its own rules (Section 301.02), the committee is not even supposed to hear policy testimony. It acted well within its procedures on July 18, and the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office weighed in, calling the rulemaking proposal “reasonable and lawful.”

The new drinking water standards for PFAS go into effect on Sept. 30. The BIA and Municipal Association are now grasping at anything in order to kill them.

The science is clear about the health effects of exposure to PFAS, which include testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, autoimmune effects and preeclampsia. We also know PFAS accumulates in the body and takes a long time to be eliminated.

The Department of Environmental Services correctly revised its proposal after a Minnesota study found that babies can receive very high concentrations of PFAS before and just after they are born, during critical developmental windows. Such exposure is likely to have lifelong impacts. The law requires enforceable standards that are “protective of prenatal and early childhood exposure.”

If the Department of Environmental Services did not revise its proposal after the Minnesota study, there would have been legal grounds to intervene. Scientists and advocates still disagree with some key assumptions, and could argue that the standards should be even lower.

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 Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules listened. Industry does not have the right to poison us to make money. We don’t want these toxins in our water.

Mindi Messmer is a geologist, a former state representative for Rye and New Castle, and co-founder of the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance.

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