Article courtesy of DOUG ALDEN | March 19, 2016 | Union Leader | Shared as educational material
MERRIMACK — Nancy Vanier was surprised when the state Department of Environmental Services last week tested the well her parents, Frank and June Church, have used for decades. The Church’s small home sits surrounded by trees on a hill above the Saint-Gobain plastics plant.
Vanier was stunned and frightened after she learned the test results: Samples indicated high levels of a synthetic chemical used in manufacturing products such as non-stick cookware and weather-resistant clothing.
“It’s kind of unpleasant knowing that,” Vanier told the New Hampshire Sunday News on Saturday, a day after a woman from DES dropped off six gallons of bottled water for the family to start using as potable water.
The chemical is called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which Vanier knew little about and was anxious to learn more, especially after the warning came with the gallon jugs.
“She told me yesterday, don’t brush my teeth with (the well water), make coffee with it or drink it,” Vanier said outside her parents’ home off Daniel Webster Highway.
It was especially alarming for Vanier to think what effects the contamination could have on her parents. Frank Church is 95 and still limited from a stroke, while June is 91.
Vanier, who lives in Maine and often travels home to check on her parents, said it was her mother who actually called to have the family’s well tested. June Church had heard about tests happening in the area after low levels of PFOA were detected at the Saint-Gobain plant, just across the road on the banks of the Merrimack River.
While samples from the Merrimack Village Water District showed slight amounts, three private wells in the area were significantly higher, DES said Friday. James Martin, a DES spokesman, said he was not able to release the addresses or names of the residents because of privacy concerns.
One was the Churches’ and the two others were on a single property in Litchfield. Of the Litchfield wells, one is used primarily for livestock.
Darlene DeBlois, owner of Dar-Col Stable, confirmed Saturday that the Litchfield wells were on her property. Her horse stables off Charles Bancroft Highway offer boarding, training and riding instruction.
DeBlois said outside one of her barns Saturday that she had only just learned of the DES results and didn’t want to comment until she knew more about PFOAs and the potential dangers.
According to the law firm of Weitz & Luxemberg, which has filed a class-action lawsuit against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International over PFOAs, chronic exposure to the chemical has been linked to a myriad of medical problems, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.
The DES release Friday stated that PFOA is a perfluorochemical, or PFC, and that “all people have some level of PFCs in the blood.” According to the state, the relation of low levels of PFCs and many of the ailments cited by Weitz and Luxemberg, including cancer, were not well understood.
Weitz & Luxemberg is working with environmental activist Erin Brockovitch on the suit on behalf of residents in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., after discovering they were drinking water containing high levels of PFOA. Their investigation into PFOA now includes Merrimack, Petersburgh, N.Y. and North Bennington, Vt.
“We are aware of the recent water test results in New Hampshire, many of which are alarmingly high,” said Jane Hardey, a spokesman for the law firm. “We will be attending the upcoming meetings to hear from and hopefully talk with residents about their concerns and assess the short- and long-term health and economic impacts of this issue.”
Martin said PFOA is an unregulated chemical, meaning the federal Environmental Protection Agency has not set an enforceable standard for acceptable levels in drinking water.
“Public water systems are not required to test for it,” Martin said.
However, the EPA has established provisional standards of 400 parts per trillion. Samples from the Water District ranged from 17 to 90 parts per trillion, but the wells at the Litchfield stables and the home of the Churches in Merrimack showed levels concerning enough that the state delivered bottled water to both properties.
Martin described the move was made “out of an abundance of caution” as testing continues.
Word quickly spread last week on both sides of the river about potential contaminants coming from the factory. Public meetings are scheduled Wednesday at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School in Merrimack and Thursday at Litchfield Middle School. Both are at 7 p.m.
Merrimack resident Tracey Rutherford, who lives in a house down the hill from the Churches, is planning to attend the Wednesday meeting to learn more about PFOA and what is going on with the drinking water. Although her home has its own well, Rutherford said it is also connected to the village water system and she doesn’t use the well.
Nonetheless, Rutherford said she and her family are taking precautions.
“It’s still a concern,” Rutherford said. “Until we know more about the situation, even though we’re on town water, I am definitely using bottled water at least for drinking.”