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NH Regulators Investigating PFAS in Commercial Cleaning, Floor Stripping

Published Friday Feb 9, 2024

Author Hadley Barndollar, NH Bulletin

NH Regulators Investigating PFAS in Commercial Cleaning, Floor Stripping

As the state of New Hampshire conducts investigations into lesser-known sources of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, wastewater from commercial cleaning operations has been detected as having levels thousands of times higher than the state’s drinking water standard.

The state’s Department of Environmental Services has been investigating contamination specific to commercial carpet cleaning, floor cleaning, and floor stripping and refinishing activities. PFAS are common ingredients in cleaning products because of their effectiveness in enhancing repellent properties, said Jennifer Harfmann, PFAS discharge specialist with the agency’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau.

As a result, businesses that unknowingly discharge PFAS-contaminated wastewater may possibly further contaminate nearby drinking water supplies.

Through ongoing sampling investigations, DES’ Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau has found wastewater generated from commercial carpet cleaning can contain PFAS at levels up to 130,000 parts per trillion, which is 6,500 times higher than the state’s drinking water standard. PFAS levels are even higher in wastewater derived from floor stripping and refinishing, reaching nearly 230,000 parts per trillion. 

New Hampshire’s PFAS drinking water standards range from 11-18 parts per trillion, depending on the specific chemical type. 

“The magnitude of what we found is surprising, but the fact that they’re present is not a surprise,” Harfmann said.

The floor stripping and waxing sampling has been done in schools, and a full technical report about those results is expected within the next month. The department also plans to start testing in grocery stores and other box stores.

Harfmann explained that DES issues permits for larger wastewater discharges and registrations for smaller discharges. Most commercial cleaning businesses fall under registrations – a one-time issuance.

“A lot of these registrations, about 2,500 of them across the state, were issued prior to PFAS coming on the scene,” she said. “My role has been to look at the registrations that we have to see if there are potential wastewater discharges that we and the dischargers are not aware of that might be including PFAS.”

A challenge in combating the issue is that PFAS are rarely, if ever, listed on ingredient labels or safety data sheets for cleaning products. Harfmann said DES is starting to work with chemical manufacturers “to get a little bit more upstream of the problem.”

“That’s really where the issue lies,” she said. “It’s a challenge to have to sample all of these products because we don’t know where there’s PFAS and where there isn’t.”

In addition to continuing sampling across the state, DES has started to engage with trade groups, other state agencies, and businesses that perform commercial cleaning – particularly those with onsite septic systems – to promote awareness and develop specific guidance for disposal of PFAS-containing wastewater. 

Options may include granular activated carbon treatment prior to discharge or containerizing wastewater for pickup by a waste removal company.

Those interested in participating in commercial cleaning sampling efforts are encouraged to contact Harfmann at or (603) 271-8647.

This story is courtesy of NH Bulletin under creative commons license. No changes have been made to the article. 

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