By Audrey Kaiser
Have you ever thought about what is in your drinking water? The likely answer is no. You are likely to assume that the property you buy is safe unless told otherwise. You are likely to assume that the town you are living in or planning to live in would have things like toxic chemical spills and hazardous waste sites contained or taken care of. You are likely to assume that whoever owned the property before you would have been responsible for cleaning up any hazardous spills or waste sites, especially if they created them. Unfortunately, it is dangerous to assume any of these things when buying a property you and/or others plan to live on. A lot of people may not consider the possibility of unsafe drinking water when buying a property because they are not informed of the issue ahead of time.
House Bill 1610 requires that sellers of properties must perform tests for MTBE, a common hazardous chemical found in NH’s drinking water, on and up to a mile away from that property. A physical map of where those toxic hazards are found in relation to the property using OneStop Data Mapper is also to be provided by the seller. MTBE, being used as an oxygen additive in gasoline, can be found in a number of sites for a variety of reasons. Some of the required sites listed in that bill that must be identified if near a property are: auto salvage yards, hazardous waste generators, remediation sites, solid waste facilities, underground storage tanks, environmental monitoring sites, and local potential contamination sources. Over time, the chemicals from these sites can have carcinogenic effects on humans. The purpose of this bill is to prevent buyers from unknowingly purchasing property with contaminated groundwater and consuming it.
Although this bill has good intentions, there are many concerns and negative opinions about it. One concern is that properties will be much harder to sell if the test results show evidence of MTBE contamination. If there’s MTBE in the drinking water of the property, it is assumed that nobody is going to want to buy that property. If somebody really needs to sell their house, it will be made much more difficult for them, and the value of their property is likely to decrease. Another concern is that one mile is much too far to measure, being as that would include other people’s properties, and those of surrounding businesses if applicable. A third concern is that once the hazardous waste site is found and identified, who will be responsible for cleaning it up― the buyer or the seller? That will cost a lot of money and time, and there are arguments for both sides. Although all of these concerns are valid, the bill can be altered to accommodate for certain concerns and should ultimately be passed into law.
This bill is extremely important and should absolutely be made law. Potentially saving one or more human lives is more important than all of the concessions previously mentioned. Amendments can be made to the bill so as to address the concerns. Spills or sites can be cleaned up or significantly reduced, but that can’t happen if they are not known about. Changes can be made to address the current problems, but changes cannot be made to save lives once it is too late. People are getting cancer from being exposed to and consuming MTBE contaminated drinking water, and this problem is certainly avoidable if appropriate action is taken. This bill is the appropriate action. This bill will at least allow people to make an educated choice about buying a potentially dangerous property, and therefore potentially save lives.
NH Science for Citizens
Department of Environmental Studies
Keene State College
Keene, NH 03431
A project of students and faculty at Keene State College in collaboration with local NH state representatives.