This summer, New Hampshire has made noteworthy steps in keeping our drinking water safe by enacting stricter Maximum Contamination Levels (MCLs) for contaminants of concern. Regulations were approved lowering the regulated MCL for four ‘per’ and ‘poly’ fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals detected in NH drinking water, and the MCL for arsenic has been cut by half.
Arsenic Levels in our Drinking Water
Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical element in groundwater and is a regulated inorganic compound for NH public drinking water supplies. NH adopted the federal maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 0.010 milligrams per liter (mg/l) many years ago. This July, the Governor signed a bill lowering the arsenic limit to 0.005 mg/l to further improve public health. NH public water supplies currently treating for arsenic will need to reevaluate their treatment systems to determine whether they meet the new MCL of 0.005 mg/l by the compliance deadline of July 2021.
Regulating PFAS in our Drinking Water
PFAS chemicals have been found in some New Hampshire drinking water sources. They include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS).
Since the 1940s, these compounds have been steadily increasing in the environment, as they are used in a variety of household, industrial, and commercial products worldwide. Some common products containing PFAS chemicals include non-stick (Teflon) cookware, flame retardant foams, and food packaging, such as microwave popcorn bags and fast food wrappers.
Once in the environment, these chemicals do not break down easily and are known to accumulate in the human body over time. Research on these compounds is still limited, but the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has identified health issues like decreases in fertility and vaccine response, increase in cholesterol levels, and evidence of carcinogenicity (specifically testicular and kidney cancer), as possible effects of excessive exposure to PFAS chemicals.
This July, the NH Joint Legislative Rules Committee (JLCAR) voted to approve rules proposed by the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) that set limits for PFAS compounds in NH community drinking water systems. Applicable water systems are defined as non-transient systems serving 25 or more people, more than 60 days per year. The rules are intended to protect the most sensitive populations over a lifetime of exposure and includes the following compounds:
New Hampshire is now the first state to set new PFAS Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) that are well below the federal health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The new MCLs becomes effective October 1, 2019. Mandatory quarterly PFAS testing will start in the fourth quarter of 2019 on all community water systems. Those results will be combined with the first three quarters of results in 2020 to develop a running four-quarter average concentration that will determine the systems in compliance, and those needing remediation. Remediation could mean installing treatment and filtration systems with estimated costs (for compliance with the new rules) reportedly as high as $200 million. NHDES approved these changes in an effort to make the state’s drinking water safer for consumption. To read the full report, visit the NHDES website.