LITCHFIELD – With the distribution of bottled water beginning Sunday, local residents remain on edge about their health, their children and their pets because of elevated levels of contamination detected in local wells.
State officials have urged anyone within a one-mile radius of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Merrimack not to drink or cook with their private well water, and bottled water is now being offered to about 400 families, some in Merrimack but most in Litchfield.
“These are serious health issues we are talking about here. It does bother me,” said Rudie Jackson of Corning Road, who lives within the one-mile radius.
Jackson has already requested that the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services draw blood samples to determine if the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is present in her blood stream since it has been detected in some water sources in Litchfield, Merrimack and Bedford. PFOA has been linked to certain types of cancer and other illnesses, although conclusive evidence of a health risk is not available.
“I have young kids, and their bodies are smaller – I just don’t know how they handle these types of chemicals,” said Jackson, who has lived in her home for two years.
Jackson’s family is included in the second round of water sample tests, and those results are still pending.
Jason Qualey, who lives on Mike Lane in Litchfield, said the water contamination is unsettling for his family, mostly because there are just so many unanswered questions.
“There is a fog of uncertainty, and that is what makes us nervous,” said Qualey, who resides just outside of the one-mile radius. However, Qualey’s property is one of several that have been included in an expanded radius from the Saint-Gobain plant that are still eligible to receive bottled water as a precaution.
Qualey said his wife is stressed about the water quality problems, and is worried about their three young children who have bathed in the water for more than six years.
“In the back of our minds we think there are probably a lot of chemicals we don’t really know about, but you never think it is going to impact your family or your neighborhood,” he said.
Qualey plans to join some 400 other property owners at the Litchfield Transfer Station on Sunday to receive an initial month’s supply of Monadnock Mountain Spring bottled water.
“I am sure there is probably going to be a line,” he said, admitting it will be worth the wait for the 50-pound cases of water.
Clark Freise, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said the water distribution will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will cover well owners that live within a one-mile radius of Saint-Gobain, along with residents on Courtland Avenue, Lance Avenue, Jeff Lane, Mike Lane, Ronisa Avenue, Ivy way, Robyn Avenue, Acorn Way, Oak Drive, Sybil Lane, Garden Drive and from 381-450 Charles Bancroft Highway in Litchfield.
“We are about to step into another huge challenge in getting this bottled water out to everybody,” said Freise. “We will do the best we can to get stuff out to everybody as fast as we can.”
Freise acknowledged that the process may not be perfect. He urged residents to be understanding about the distribution efforts. Residents are being asked to bring a driver’s license to the transfer station in order to receive their water.
DES is hopeful that after 30 to 60 days, residents within the one-mile radius that are utilizing private wells will be able to have the bottled water delivered directly to their homes.
According to Freise, state officials are reaching out to other states that have dealt with PFOA contamination recently. DES is in the process of setting up a meeting with representatives in North Bennington, Vt., a community with a former ChemFab plant that detected PFOA in some of their water sources earlier this year.
Matt Gould of Litchfield said he worries about the health of his two dogs – one of which consumes about three gallons of water daily and has begun chewing his legs raw. Gould said he hopes to get his dogs blood tested to determine if the water is poisoning his pets.
Chris Burns, another Litchfield resident who lives on Center Street, said he lives just south of the one-mile radius from Saint-Gobain, but is still worried about water contamination.
“I have two small kids, and I don’t want to risk it,” said Burns.
Freise reassured the public last week that the expanded radius is “overly protective.”
“We think we have drawn the line at a very safe level,” he said.
On Friday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte met with town officials from nearby communities to discuss the growing water contamination problem, and to urge Saint-Gobain to comply with DES requests.
“I will also continue to push the (Environmental Protection Agency) to swiftly release the new health advisory standard for the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid so that New Hampshire residents can better understand the potential risks associated with exposure to this chemical,” Ayotte said in a statement. “New Hampshire residents deserve to know whether their water sources are safe as quickly as possible.”
Saint-Gobain CEO Tom Kinisky said Friday that the company will aim to reach all deadlines set by DES, including a request to submit a work plan by May 1 intended to fix the contamination issue. He also said that Saint-Gobain will implement point-of-entry treatment units for private wells within the vicinity of the Merrimack plant that show elevated levels of PFOA, and that the company expects to be more visible and transparent with the public and local officials surrounding the matter.