One of the most important developments to date regarding the toxins leaching from the Coakley landfill came this past week as the Coakley Landfill Group was ordered to provide bottled water to a home near the Superfund cleanup site.

The state Department of Environmental Services also ordered the CLG to provide it with “recommendations for corrective action” within 30 days, which DES spokesman Jim Martin said means a “a long-term solution to the problem, which could be connecting somebody to a public water supply or providing a treatment system.”

DES mandate did not result from further spread of the suspected carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane. It resulted from the state lowering its ambient groundwater quality standard for 1,4-dioxane to .32 parts per billion, leading to a test at the home above the new standard. But the DES did not say the plume of toxins isn’t spreading.

That shows how necessary it is for the state and federal governments to properly safeguard against the real and present danger from 1,4-dioxane and PFAS increasingly found at various sites across the country.

It is clear the Coakley Landfill Group will not be proactive in instituting a proper remediation of the capped dump in Greenland and North Hampton. Perhaps it’s foolish to expect the polluters, led by the city of Portsmouth, to spend additional money to remediate chemicals not known when the group was established because they would pay the bill. That is all the more reason why our government agencies must lead the way.

DES further instructed the CLG to “conduct more frequent sampling of a couple wells that have historically sampled for 1,4-dioxane above the new standard,” including one that serves the Breakfast Hill Golf Club clubhouse.

The lowering of the standard for 1,4-dioxane was a crucial and correct decision and a lower standard for PFAS must follow. Detection of elevated levels of these dangerous chemicals is the prompt needed to spur further protective and corrective measures. Why would anyone except that some level of a toxic carcinogen is acceptable? Why would anyone say it’s OK for children to drink tainted water?

The CLG may point to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1999 decision to drop the requirement for a pump-and-treat system at Coakley, as was originally required, but it’s becoming increasingly clear further remediation is needed to protect both human health and the environment from the toxins escaping the dump.

The CLG, city of Portsmouth, town of Greenland and state should redouble efforts to extend municipal water lines to all homes in proximity to the landfill. Collectively, they ignored the institutional controls that would have blocked the sinking of new water wells around the landfill.

The water lines are needed now. Perhaps the lack of urgency will be altered by the new DES standard for 1,4-dioxane.

However, municipal water lines will not stop the flow of the contaminants that are poisoning groundwater around the site. It appears the only way to stop the flow of toxins into the environment is to treat them, as was originally deemed the proper course of action. When the EPA made its politically influenced decision to drop the pump-and-treat requirement at Coakley it was not aware of the health threats of 1,4-dioxane and PFAS, which are not going to break down on their own even over decades.

The discovery of these dangerous chemicals reset the course for how the Coakley landfill should be remediated. The CLG and Portsmouth officials have been slow to come to terms with that.

The CLG is not going to do the right thing without being forced to by the rule of law. It is unfortunate the city of Portsmouth, the leader of the CLG because of its responsibility for the dump’s operation, cannot seem to do the right thing. Thankfully, though, others are fighting for the right thing and are achieving real progress.