By Alex Lippa
---- — ATKINSON — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., shook her head during a visit to Town Hall yesterday.
“It just doesn’t making any sense,” she said.
Shaheen was in Atkinson yesterday to hear requests for help from town and New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services officials. They want to provide clean drinking water to town residents with contaminated wells.
Shaheen said she was baffled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency would not be providing water to all homes which are contaminated by 1,4 Dioxane.
“Access to safe drinking water is one of the most basic functions of government,” she said. “I hope everyone is working with the best of intentions to ensure people are protected.”
In 2011, 47 homes on Emery Drive, Belknap Drive, Brookside Terrace and Deer Run Road were found to have traces of 1,4 Dioxane in their wells. Dioxane is a chemical which is known to cause cancer.
In May, the EPA announced it would spend $2 million to provide residents with safe drinking water. The EPA will install a new water line which will run past the affected homes on Emery Drive, Belknap Drive and Brookside Terrace.
But last month, the EPA announced the money would only cover 18 homes which have wells containing at least three parts per billion of 1,4 Dioxane. All other homes along the line would have to be connected at the owners’ expense.
Shaheen, along with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-N.H., wrote a letter to the EPA in response to that decision last month. Shaheen said she has not heard back from the EPA.
“I think we need to go back and make some phone calls and make sure we can get an answer to that letter,” she said yesterday. “It’s helpful to firsthand listen to the challenges that people have so that I can relay them to the EPA.”
The EPA has not commented on the letter.
Shaheen said her primary focus would be to get the EPA to run a water line down Deer Run Road, which would be provided by Hampstead Area Water Company. Four houses on the road have shown traces of contamination, but would not have an option to connect.
Michael Wimsatt, director of the NHDES Waste Management Division, said yesterday that he believed that the $2 million being spent by the EPA would cover Deer Run Road.
“It is my understanding that the projected costs of the project are well under that ceiling,” Wimsatt said. “I feel everything that could get done will within that ceiling.”
Wimsatt estimated it would cost $100,000 to install a water line on Deer Run Road. He also estimated it would cost $190,000 to hook up all additional residences with contaminated water to the new water line.
“If the money has been appropriated and we think that the money can be done within that limit, then that’s what ought to be done,” Shaheen said.
The source of the contamination may have been the release of a chlorinated solvent at the Johnston and Johnston property in 1989. The company, which manufactured rolled aluminum, sold the property at 128 Route 111 to Winfield Alloy, a recycling company, in 2005.
Wimsatt said officials are confident the contamination will not spread to other homes
“I think we have our arms around this,” he said. “But I can’t say for certain that homes that show no contamination won’t eventually get contaminated.”
Atkinson resident Paul DiMaggio, who lives at 14 Emery Drive, was the only affected resident who was at the meeting yesterday. DiMaggio said he plans to submit two citizen’s petitions for the town warrant, which would have taxpayers cover the cost if the EPA does not.
“I think she understands the full picture and will do everything in her power to bring it forward,” said DiMaggio, who lives in one of the 18 homes the EPA is hooking up. “I’m fairly optimistic, but I think it’s still important to have that backup, fail-safe plan in case everything does not come together.”
Town officials were pleased Shaheen took time to come to Atkinson.
“I’m pleased that the senator took time out to come meet with us,” Town Administrator Bill Innes said. “I’m hoping and I would be disappointed if the EPA does not connect their water, I think that is critical.”
Selectmen’s Chairman William Friel also said he appreciated Shaheen coming to town.
“She’s jumped on the bandwagon early on,” he said. “She reached out to us to set up this meeting and she’s been fantastic about it.”