© 2024 KGOU
Colorful collared lizard a.k.a mountain boomer basking on a sandstone boulder
News and Music for Oklahoma
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Local Environmental Issue In New Hampshire Gets A 2020 Boost


In New Hampshire, a local environmental issue is attracting a lot of attention from people who want to be the nation's president. Democrats are competing to win the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary. And residents are worried about PFAS. That's spelled P-F-A-S. PFAS, which are a group of manmade chemicals, have sparked health fears where they've turned up in drinking water supplies in New Hampshire and nationwide. Here's Annie Ropeik of New Hampshire Public Radio.

ANNIE ROPEIK, BYLINE: Last year, a group of women from the town of Merrimack won seats in New Hampshire's state legislature. They called themselves water warriors, ready to push for reform after a plastics factory in their town polluted their water with PFAS chemicals. Now, just months after the water warriors took office in New Hampshire, they're back on the campaign trail, this time inviting all the candidates for president to come talk with them about PFAS. Many of the Democrats are taking them up on it, like New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.


KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: If a family doesn't have access to clean water, it changes everything. And this is an issue that is crippling communities all over the country.

ROPEIK: PFAS compounds were long used in products like Teflon and Gore-Tex. They've been linked to health problems and have turned up in water supplies nationwide. These campaign stops have given undecided primary voters, like Suzanne Vail, a chance to demand answers from candidates like Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton.


SUZANNE VAIL: As a president, would you be able to take executive action? What would you be able to do?

SETH MOULTON: Well, there are a lot of different things we could do.

ROPEIK: Moulton says he'd focus on Congress, where PFAS response has lately been gaining steam. Meanwhile, states like New Hampshire are starting to write their own drinking water limits for the chemicals because federal regulation has been slow to evolve. Activists like water warriors and State Representative Nancy Murphy want the next president to push for faster, stricter reform.

NANCY MURPHY: We need advocates, people to listen. And I think this is the first step.

ROPEIK: Murphy says these events aren't just about the campaigns but the people watching them.

MURPHY: Our goal is to educate as many people as we can, raise that awareness. And, you know, by having the presidential candidates come here, that helps do that as well.

ROPEIK: And the months-long haul of the primary means the attention doesn't let up. In the lull between PFAS roundtables came an op-ed from Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren in a local paper laying out her White House plans for the chemicals. It's the latest example of how activists like New Hampshire's water warriors can leverage living in the state that hosts the first presidential primary. And the candidates benefit, too. They get a ready-made audience. They can also connect this New Hampshire issue to broader, national themes. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker held a Facebook Live to talk about his environmental justice platform. It covers PFAS contamination, climate change and more.


CORY BOOKER: Because if you live in a community with contaminants, it affects your health. It affects your economy. It affects your kid's performance at school. It affects everything. And that's why there's this urgency.

ROPEIK: Advocates like Wendy Thomas see those connections, too. She's another one of the New Hampshire state representatives. And her home's private well in the town of Merrimack is tainted with PFAS. But she's just outside the area where the factory that caused the pollution has paid to connect affected families to clean public water. Thomas says she could afford a filtration system, but she knows not every family is so lucky.

WENDY THOMAS: They're being injured because they don't have the money. And that ties back to minimum wage. And it ties back to health care.

ROPEIK: Regardless of who makes it to the general election, Thomas hopes the first-in-the-nation primary campaign will show candidates her issue is one they can run on anywhere. For NPR News, I'm Annie Ropeik in Concord.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDAMAME'S "ONE FOR KIWI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Annie Ropeik reports on state economy and business issues for all Indiana Public Broadcasting stations, from a home base of WBAA. She has lived and worked on either side of the country, but never in the middle of it. At NPR affiliate KUCB in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, she covered fish, oil and shipping and earned an Alaska Press Club Award for business reporting. She then moved 4,100 miles to report on chickens, chemicals and more for Delaware Public Media. She is originally from the D.C. suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, but her mom is a Hoosier. Annie graduated from Boston University with a degree in classics and philosophy. She performs a mean car concert, boasts a worryingly encyclopedic knowledge of One Direction lyrics and enjoys the rule of threes. She is also a Hufflepuff.
More News
Support nonprofit, public service journalism you trust. Give now.