Weeks Calls for Accountability and Long-Term Solutions to PFC Water Contamination Crisis
Litchfield, NH - Executive Council candidate and good-government advocate Dan Weeks on Tuesday called for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to assume full responsibility for the remediation of contaminated drinking water that is adversely affecting hundreds of area residents in proximity to its Merrimack plant.
Test results published by the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) on August 4 reveal 172 private wells serving several hundred residents of the District 5 towns Merrimack and Litchfield contain over 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical long in use at Saint-Gobain with suspected links to a variety of health problems. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May released a health advisory establishing 70 ppt as the safe lifetime exposure level for PFOA, which NH DES has adopted for New Hampshire.
The Vermont Department of Health, by contrast, adopted a more stringent 20 ppt lifetime exposure threshold, citing academic studies which show a correlation between elevated PFOA in the blood and high blood pressure, decreased birth weight, thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancer, and certain immune system effects. Additional wells are still being tested by NH DES to determine the full extent of PFC contamination in Merrimack, Litchfield, and surrounding towns.
“Water is a human right and no one should ever have to go without clean, safe drinking water,” Weeks said. “When corporations like Saint-Gobain pollute this most basic resource, our elected leaders and the courts must hold them fully accountable for the damage done to people’s health and the environment."
Weeks, who has conferred with state leaders and local residents, and attended multiple public hearings since PFOA contamination was identified in March, applauded state and local officials for their dedicated efforts to educate the public and provide both short- and long-term solutions to protect public health. He thanked Saint-Gobain for covering the cost of bottled water for affected residents to-date and noted that CEO Tom Kinisky has said previously that Saint-Gobain will attempt to reach every deadline requested by DES to fix the water contamination problem, whatever the cost. To that end, Weeks called on the company to commit to fully funding permanent remediation in the form of a public water system for affected homes and related health and water costs outline by the Town of Litchfield, to include:
- Installation of a public water supply system for homes with contaminated water, including fire hydrants, permits, inspections, and related construction and safety costs, to be installed immediately during the 2016 construction season
- Provision of water via public water system for affected homes, businesses, and towns for a minimum of 20 years (to account for unforeseen water expenses resulting from contamination of private wells)
- Blood testing for residents in affected areas, as approved by the NH Executive Council in July and provided by the NH Department of Health and Human Services at taxpayer expense
- Remediation efforts for affected groundwater and soils, to be determined in consultation with NH DES and the affected towns
- Evaluation of the effects on local private property values of a new public water system replacing private wells
“For Litchfield and Merrimack residents, especially children, who have been drinking contaminated water every day for the last several years and may be suffering ill health as a result, nothing Saint-Gobain says or does can make them whole,” Weeks said. “All the more reason for the company to do everything within its power to fix the problems by funding a permanent clean water supply system immediately and taking other remedial actions which state agencies recommend and the courts may require."
Weeks, who previously served as Executive Director of the nonpartisan government watchdog group Open Democracy, also drew attention to the larger challenge of toxic chemical regulation and the undue influence of chemical companies in the policymaking process, noting that funding for NH Resource Protection and Development (including DES) is nearly 20 percent lower in the latest state budget than it was five years ago while federal EPA funding was slashed in 2015 to its lowest level since 1989.
According to a recent PBS report, only a tiny fraction of the more than 80,000 synthetic chemicals currently registered for use in the United States have been tested for safety by a government agency and legislation recently-adopted in Congress to update the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 would provide for EPA testing of only 20 chemicals at a time over seven years, or fewer than three chemicals per year. Weeks pointed out that interest groups supporting the federal legislation gave over $54 million in political contributions to U.S. Senators alone during the drafting process, eight times the amount spent by an opposing set of consumer rights and public health organizations.
“It is the job of the Executive Council to review and approve state contracts and appointments, including leadership appointments and key budget items for the state agencies charged with protecting public and environmental health,” Weeks said. “I am deeply concerned about my opponent's pennywise and pound-foolish approach to state spending and regulation, and I commit to making smart long-term investments that protect groundwater and other precious resources in the public interest.”