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Action Urged on Chemical in Drinking Water

Nationwide water sampling turned up harmful chemicals in many communities, including water systems that serve 53,000 in the Granite State. (Mike Clifford)
Nationwide water sampling turned up harmful chemicals in many communities, including water systems that serve 53,000 in the Granite State. (Mike Clifford)
June 27, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. - In the wake of a major overhaul of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA is being urged to act on a chemical found in some water systems in New Hampshire. The Environmental Working Group is urging the EPA to address PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a chemical used in hundreds of household products and linked to a host of serious health conditions including cancer and birth defects. In New Hampshire, the chemical was found in Stratford and Hillsborough at levels considered unsafe. Those water systems serve about 53,000 people.

Liz Hitchcock, legislative director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said the legislation signed last week by President Obama is a significant improvement

"The federal government now has the authority to take action on toxic chemicals that it has not had," she said.

The legislation vastly expands the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to test and regulate the thousands of chemicals in daily use. The original law, passed in 1976, allowed the cost of regulation to be a major consideration, and it set standards for scientific proof of harm that were so high that the EPA was even blocked from regulating asbestos.

The law now makes health and environmental considerations the sole criteria for regulation. Hitchcock said that change might have made a big difference forty years ago.

"We could hope that EPA would have regulated PFOA, and prevented the health hazards now being experienced in communities all over the country," she said.

The new law requires the EPA to test ten chemicals a year initially, expanding to twenty a year once protocols are established.

But there are some 80,000 chemicals sold in the United States. Hitchcock said that means the pace will be very slow, but if the EPA gives known harmful substances the highest priority, it will make a real difference.

"If we can take action on even a small number of chemicals that have a big health effect, we can affect the lives of millions of Americans," she added.

Hitchcock also criticizes the new law for putting restrictions on the ability of states to impose their own regulations on chemicals.

See a list of communities affected by chemicals here.

Mike Clifford/Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NH