Southern NH water issues center stage at forum

 JULIE HUSS/Staff photoThe Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce hosted a Southern New Hampshire Water Forum on Thursday at Brookstone Park in Derry. Guest speakers, from left, were Jim Ricker, Mindi Messmer, and Marie Degulis, all reporting on various aspects of the region's water, potential contamination causes and impacted areas.

DERRY — The state of the state's water took center stage Thursday morning as the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce hosted a Southern N.H. Water Forum, stressing data, environmental issues and ways to combat contamination in public and private supplies.

The forum was held at the Brookstone Park event center in Derry.

Guest speakers included Jim Ricker, vice president/director of Northern New England Services, Wilcox and Barton Inc.; Mindi Messmer, former state representative and registered and professional geologist; and Marie Degulis, a certified water specialist and representative of business development for Secondwind Water Systems Inc.

Ricker led off the presentation with water supply data, saying about one-half of the state gets its water from private wells. Other water sources include community wells servicing mobile home parks, condo complexes, residential neighborhoods and campgrounds.

Municipal water supplies include areas being provided by Lake Massabesic and the Merrimack River. Schools and businesses may receive their water from public wells or municipal supply sources.

Ricker called groundwater — providing much drinking water — a "precious resource."

That led to his views on potential and already identified contamination sources, including underground storage tanks, gas stations, landfills, auto storage yards, illegal dumping and even farms and apple orchards where pesticides and other chemicals may be used.

Other contamination is naturally occurring, Ricker said, like arsenic and radon that can affect private or public wells and other water systems.

"The highest percentage (of arsenic) is in the southeastern part of the state," Ricker said, adding the concentration is probably due to the type of bedrock found in the land.

Ricker cited impact areas in several communities, including Salem and Windham, where studies are identifying probable problem sites for water contamination.

Messmer is a registered and certified professional geologist and is a former state representative. She is also a co-founder of New Hampshire Water Alliance and told people at the forum that she advocates strongly for policy to protect the environment, drinking water and public health.

Messmer spoke on studies showing a serious pocket of children in the Seacoast being identified with pediatric cancer, adding that New Hampshire is shown to have high rates of cancer in children, as well as other types of cancer including bladder, breast and esophageal, potentially linked to contaminated water.

She said as a state legislator, she worked on bills to help identify and support studies on the environment and to combine those with public health data.

And when it comes to an industrially-produced group of compounds known as PFAFs, Messmer noted it's a national issue.

Citing Teflon pans and Scotch-Guard as sources for those compounds potentially affecting people, Messmer said everyone most likely has been exposed in a lifetime.

PFAFs are also found in food packaging materials, in landfills, even in the foam used for fighting fuel-based fires, she said.

Health impacts could include elevated cholesterol levels, thyroid problems, and links to certain cancers.

Messmer heralded the state Legislature's efforts to pass SB 309 last year, a way to support the protection of water in the state and to emphasize updated standards and protections of residents, especially prenatal and early childhood ages.

"Children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures," Messmer said. "And we know we can prevent environmental exposures."

Gov. Chris Sununu signed the bill in July 2018.

"From day one of my administration, we have been committed to ensuring that New Hampshire's natural beauty," the governor said in a statement after the bill was approved.

"Clean water is an essential aspect of achieving that objective," he also stated. "There is no greater trust we place in government than when we turn on the faucet and expect clean water."

PFAFs and what they can do is a "really heavy" topic, Degulis said at the forum.

The certified water specialist said there is more information being discovered and more locations where PFAFs can be a problem.

Degulis has configured water treatment systems for homeowners and also teaches professionals about water challenges in their buildings.

She laid out many examples of how water treatment systems can handle problem materials in water, from PFAFs, to arsenic, radon, iron and other minerals.

It's all about learning as much as possible, Degulis said, and to find ways to keep water clean and healthy, whether in a large supply source or a smaller home. Technology has evolved too, she added, making water treatment and filter systems available in many sizes, capacities and prices to service anyone needing help.

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