The Bulletin Board

Lawmakers debate statute of limitations for PFAS-related health problems

By: - May 12, 2021 4:01 pm
State house dome

The veto was Gov. Chris Sununu’s first of the session. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Lawmakers and advocates discussed what an appropriate statute of limitations would be when it comes to PFAS-related health problems during a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Bob Healey of Merrimack and other local elected officials spoke about the effect of PFAS on their community. Contamination has been found in the air, soil, and water surrounding the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facilities since 2016, rendering private wells unusable. Healey said the process has been long and laborious for affected residents.

“Citizens need additional time to identify the physical damage to their bodies and seek protections under the law,” Healey said.

Health problems linked to PFAS include liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, hormone suppression, and cancer. Testimony from those on the ground emphasized that more time is needed to fully identify the damages from the toxic “forever chemicals” that bioaccumulate once ingested.

House Bill 236 would double the current statute of limitations for personal injury from three years to six years. The rationale for the increase is that, nearly six years after the contamination was first uncovered, some individuals are just discovering that they have been affected. Some lawmakers questioned whether there should be a statute of limitations at all.

“Would it be possible to remove all statute of limitations regarding PFAS exposure?” Sen. Harold French asked.

The answer to that question is yes, according to Department of Justice attorney Allen Brooks. It would be a policy decision that the Legislature has the authority to make, he said. Brooks said the Department of Justice does not have a position on the proposal, but he wanted to ensure that increasing the statute of limitations for personal injury wouldn’t inadvertently limit state action in prosecuting cases of PFAS contamination.

“We do not want to undermine anything that the sponsors are trying to do. We spend a lot of our time at the Department of Justice dealing with these issues, and we want to make sure that we’re effective going forward,” he said.

David Creer, public policy director at the Business and Industry Association, testified against doubling the existing statute. He said that it would send a message that the state “is trying to make it as hard as possible for businesses to do their business here.”

Creer spoke in favor of keeping a statute of limitations, calling it good public policy “to not hang the threat of lawsuits over people’s heads indefinitely.”

“You don’t want to necessarily think that a bar fight you got into in college 10 years ago, now you’re going to be sued for it,” he said.

But Don Provencher, chair of Merrimack Village District Water Works, said three years simply isn’t enough time to understand the full impact of PFAS chemicals.

“Quite honestly, I’m not sure if even six years is enough,” he said. 

Provencher said he would support an amendment to further extend the statute of limitations beyond language currently in the bill. He pointed to new information that continues to come out about the harm of PFAS as scientific understanding evolves and more studies are conducted.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.