Rep. Renny Cushing and ten other state representatives and senators are sponsoring a 2020 bill that would require bottled water manufacturers to test for perfluorinated chemicals and print the results on the water labels.
HB 1274 would specifically require manufacturers to test for 24 perfluorinated chemicals and volatile organic compounds, including methyl tert butyl ether (MTBE) and arsenic.
Perfluorinated chemicals in NH
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) have been used in nonstick pans, firefighting foams, and many other products. They persist in water and build up in the human body. The health effects of PFCs are not fully understood, but there seems to be a link to developmental delays, immune system problems, increased cholesterol, and some cancers.
The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) recently set stricter limits for PFCs in drinking water and groundwater—much stricter than federal guidelines. Those limits went into effect October 1, but in November a judge put enforcement of those limits on hold. A chemical company, a fertilizer company, a farmer, and a town utility are all suing the state over the new limits.
Is bottled water contaminated?
Bottled water may seem safer than tap water, but that’s not necessarily true. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety of bottled water, and they do not have any strict limits for PFCs.
After the New Hampshire DES set their stricter limits for PFCs, they tested a random sample of bottled water. They found several brands with PFCs over the New Hampshire limit.
Supporters of HB 1274 point to these results as evidence that New Hampshire needs to test and label bottled water. The public has a right to know what is in water marketed for drinking.
Potentially high costs
Rep. Mindi Messmer sponsored a similar bill in 2018, HB 1632. Bottled water manufacturers opposed that bill primarily due to the cost of creating a unique label for water sold in New Hampshire. Nick Martin, the Director of Public Affairs and Communications for Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England, testified:
“If passed, this legislation would force out-of-state suppliers to bottle water with labels specifically for NH. Separate labels, line stoppages, and separate inventories all add to production costs. Those costs would be passed on to consumers.”
Manufacturers argue that if PFCs are really that dangerous, the federal government should step in and create nationwide regulations.
Bottled water manufacturers also often have detailed water testing information available to the public upon request, including some PFC levels.
Other state action
According to a report in the Union Leader, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services is working on proposed rule changes to require bottled water manufacturers to test for PFCs. There are no further details on their proposal at this time.