The States of New Hampshire and Massachusetts recently set drinking water “maximum contaminant levels” or MCLs for “per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances” or PFAS. These two states are the only two in the New England states to set drinking water standards but other states will likely follow.  

PFAS are long-lasting, synthetic chemicals that are commonly associated with firefighting foams and water/grease/stain repellent fabrics/papers, but they also have a wide variety of other common uses in manufactured goods and consumer products.  PFAS are a large family of chemicals consisting of chains of different lengths of carbon/fluorine atoms – one of the strongest bonds in nature. Their stability and water/grease/stain repellent properties make them attractive for a variety of uses, but their ubiquity, longevity, and toxicity at very low levels make them a formidable environmental problem.  Two of the more common PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, have been phased out of domestical commercial production due to their toxicity (but are still used in goods manufactured overseas), and many PFAS compounds are still in use. 

One of the more confusing issues for water suppliers is the variability in the approach adopted by Massachusetts and New Hampshire in their approaches to these MCLs.

  • In Massachusetts, six PFAS compounds (PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA) are regulated in drinking water as a sum, with the MCL equal to 20 “parts per trillion” or ppt for the sum of these six compounds. If the lab result is less than the “method reporting limit” or MRL for one or more of the compounds, the lab will qualify the result with a “J”. In this case, a concentration equal to ½ the MRL is included in the sum. If the lab reports a value that is less than 1/3 the MRL for one or more of the six compounds, this value is counted as zero. In Massachusetts, free testing services are available for public water suppliers
  • In New Hampshire, four PFAS compounds are regulated with individual MCLs: PFOA (MCL: 12ppt), PFOS (MCL: 15 ppt), PFHxS (MCL: 18 ppt) and PFNA (MCL: 11 ppt).  Beginning in October 2020, community water suppliers were required to begin to complete the first of four consecutive quarters of PFAS sampling. Compliance status will be determined by the average of the results over the four rounds.  If two rounds show results below a MRL of 2 ppt for each of the four PFAS compounds, further quarterly sampling will not be needed.  Further guidance from the NHDES is available.

Coincident with announcing drinking water standards, both states have also established loan and grant programs to help water suppliers comply with MCLs and to assist with treatment options and other response costs associated with widespread exceedances.

  • Massachusetts recently awarded $200,000 grants to ten water systems with significant PFAS impacts.  While this grant program is currently closed, during her remarks to the New England Water Works Association Water Resources Symposium on October 28th, Kathleen Baskin, Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of Water Resources of the MassDEP reported that the program will likely be continued into 2021 2021 during her remarks to the New England Water Works Association Water Resources Symposium on October 28th More information regarding Massachusetts’ grant program and current recipients can be found here.
  • In New Hampshire, the NHDES has developed a PFAS Remediation Loan Fund which sets aside $50 million dollars for water suppliers responding to PFAS problems.  At the recent New Hampshire Water Works Association Water is Essential Conference on October 27th, Amy Rousseau from the NHDES outlined the new fund program.  She indicated that the funds would be eligible to community water systems and non-transient non-community systems (schools and businesses) for eligible costs that can date back to September 30, 2019.  The fund will primarily act to provide low-interest loans (similar to New Hampshire’s State Revolving Loan fund) with the potential for 10% principal loan forgiveness based on need (determined primarily by evaluating water rates and median household income).  Up to 50% loan forgiveness could be provided to loan recipients pending the results of New Hampshire’s current litigation against PFAS manufacturers.  Winning such a lawsuit is not certain and legal proceedings are in their initial stages.  Under the draft rules, any system with an eligible plan responding to PFAS exceedances will be funded; plans can include treatment systems, replacing sources, and other actions.  A public hearing on the rules took place on November 6, 2020 and public comment can be received up to November 16, 2020. Information about PFAS Investigations in New Hampshire can be found here.