Water worries: Toxic chemicals are being dumped in the Merrimack River

Water worries: Toxic chemicals are being dumped in the Merrimack River

LOWELL, Mass. — It provides the drinking water for over half a million people, but some say toxic chemicals are now being dumped into the Merrimack River.

The Merrimack River Watershed Council says it mostly stems from the Turnkey Landfill in Rochester, New Hampshire after the federal government loosened regulations on Obama-era landmark water protections.

According to the council, the highly toxic chemicals are being dumped into the river from the landfill.

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In September, the Trump administration repealed the Clean Water Act, a set of protections that limited the amount of pollution and chemicals in streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands across the country. The new rule also limits the number of waterways nationwide the government can protect from pollution.

However, many residents who drink the water from the Merrimack say they have no idea what is in the water.

"I’ve been drinking Merrimack River water all my life," said Bob Minasian, of Lawrence. "I’m 80 years old and nothing's happened to me, my teeth have not fallen out."

Others are wary of what this could mean for the future.

"There’s not a lot of accountability [or] caring about people except for the profits," said Joanna Woolworth, of North Andover.

The council says they have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to require the Lowell Regional Wastewater Facility to screen for PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in the river, but were declined.

"They are not required by law and they should do it whether or not they are required by law," said Christina Eckert, the Co-Executive Director for the Merrimack River Watershed Council. "Anyway, if not, we better pass a law quick. There are multiple manufacturers. We know the PFAS are there, the question is how do we get rid of it and that’s a problem because it does not break down naturally. And what I’ve been told is it requires being heated to extreme temperatures, up to 1000 degrees, to break it down and if you do it wrong it just makes the chemical more dangerous."

The chemicals have been linked to kidney cancer, low infant birth weights and other diseases.

"I can’t worry about the type of water I drink so in a way I trust people to do the right thing and protect people," said Woolworth.

Experts say the PFAS chemical does not easily break down in the body and it could be in the water of 600,000 people.