NHDES: 19 Merrimack-area properties getting bottled water due to contamination
by Kimberly Houghton, originally published on March 29, 2016
MERRIMACK — Bottled water is now being provided to 19 homes with private wells showing elevated levels of the contaminant perfluorooctanoic acid, state officials announced Tuesday.
But that is small consolation for Gary Zyla of 704 Daniel Webster Highway, whose well tested the highest for PFOA — 830 parts per trillion, more than double the 400 ppt health advisory suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Nobody has any answers for us, so that is really scary,” Zyla said Tuesday.
Ten cases of bottled water were delivered Sunday to the home he and his wife, Connie “Sunshine” Zyla, have shared for nearly 30 years. It is across from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.
Gary Zyla said his wife has been sick for quite some time; she once weighed 160 pounds and has lost about 70 pounds.
“She has been going to the doctors constantly for a long time now, and we don’t know if it ties into the water problem or not,” said Zyla, the former owner of Zyla’s discount warehouse store in Merrimack.
The results of additional water sample tests were released by the state Department of Environmental Services on Tuesday. They showed PFOA ranging from 110 parts per trillion to 830 ppt for 17 private wells; 42 private wells detected PFOA below 100 ppt.
“At the moment, the data is brand new, so we haven’t had enough time to be able to truly evaluate what the data may mean in its entirety yet,” said Jim Martin, public information officer for DES. “We are working as diligently as we can to get samples.”
DES, which was already providing bottled water to two families that had three wells with PFOA above 100 ppt, is now providing bottled water to 17 additional properties — all within a one-mile radius of Saint-Gobain.
Martin said three of those wells are in Merrimack, and 17 sit in Litchfield.
DES began investigating Merrimack’s water after the Saint-Gobain plastics plant noticed low levels of PFOA at four faucets within its Merrimack plant about three weeks ago.
Chronic exposure to PFOA, a man-made chemical once used to make Teflon, has been linked to a myriad of medical problems, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer and other illnesses.
So far, 67 water samples have been taken from private wells in the area, along with samples from the municipal water supply, the Merrimack Village District, which has detected PFOA at 17 to 90 ppt.
Long process ahead
The man who uncovered a similar PFOA problem in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., said there is still a long process ahead for local communities.
“This is a hard process, and it is going to be difficult for the people of New Hampshire,” Michael Hickey said.
After Hickey’s father, a worker at the Saint-Gobain plant in Hoosick Falls, died of kidney cancer in 2013, Hickey was determined to find the cause of his dad’s illness.
It took more than a year before he was certain that PFOA was contaminating the local water source, and was likely the cause of his father’s cancer.
“We will never know 100 percent, but yes, I absolutely think it played a role,” Hickey said.
Now, as water samples in Merrimack, Litchfield and Bedford have revealed various levels of PFOA — all near Merrimack’s Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics — New Hampshire residents will be facing a similar, uphill battle to understand the contaminant and fix the problem, said Hickey.
“I think Saint-Gobain tried to do the right thing here, and they are probably trying to do the same thing in (New Hampshire) as well,” he said.
Some levels of PFOA in Hoosick Falls were significantly higher than what is being detected in local communities.
According to Hickey, the public water supply in Hoosick Falls had hit levels of 660 parts per trillion of PFOA, and tests of private wells near the Saint-Gobain plant there had discovered levels as high as 18,000 ppt.
Saint-Gobain was quick to acknowledge the problem, and did step forward to install a carbon filtration system at the local water plant in Hoosick Falls, he said. There is now no detection of PFOA in his community, added Hickey.
Plea to EPA
Sen. Kelly Ayotte is pleading with the EPA to fast-track the release of a new health advisory standard for PFOA.
“Due to the increasing number of impacted communities, the unknown potential health effects related to using water contaminated by PFOA, and the conflicting standards as to what level of PFOA should prompt water treatment or use of an alternative water source, I urge EPA to expedite the determination and release of the new health advisory standard for PFOA as soon as possible,” Ayotte wrote Monday to Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator.
A meeting has been planned for 6:30 p.m. tonight at Peter Woodbury School in Bedford to discuss findings of low levels of PFOA at Greenfield Farms and Cabot Preserve in Bedford.