Dangerous “forever chemicals” in drinking water are linked to serious health conditions. When New Hampshire resident Nancy Murphy learned of contamination in her town’s drinking water, she began to connect the dots between her family’s mysterious health problems and the water they drank for decades.
It began in 2004 when Nancy’s daughter started getting incapacitating headaches. Within the next several years, five of her family members had been diagnosed with asthma and another with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Four developed thyroid disorders, including her son, who lost 53 pounds in three months from Graves’ disease. Nancy’s husband and father received three different cancer diagnoses. Nancy and the majority of her family are adopted and do not share genetic predispositions to these health conditions—but they do share a ZIP code. In 2016, Nancy learned that her house was 2 1/2 miles away from an industrial polluter that contaminated her town’s water, air, and soil with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). As a retired nurse and environmental advocate for decades, she sprung into action to help her town access clean drinking water. But with limited state funds available, Merrimack had to compete for funding. Ultimately, in the interest of public health, Merrimack citizens voted to pay to filter the public wells they had no role in contaminating. When the American Rescue Plan was enacted in April of 2021, it delivered $1.1 million to remedy PFAS contamination in Merrimack. Later that same year, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, dedicating another $10 billion toward PFAS remediation efforts. Nancy is grateful that the federal government is finally taking steps to provide its citizens with clean water.
As we learned more about PFAS, I realized my family’s myriad of health conditions might flow directly from the water we drank from Merrimack’s most contaminated public wells. I’m glad federal investments will help address the PFAS pollution in my town. But until we hold corporate polluters accountable, families like mine will continue to be burdened financially as we try to protect ourselves while suffering the negative health impacts that span multiple generations.
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