MERRIMACK — Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics has paid at least $14 million in remedial work in southern New Hampshire since water contamination was found at two of its faucets in 2016.
Dina Pokedoff, spokesman for Saint-Gobain, said that the company has made it a top priority to take a leadership role in bringing potable water to the residents surrounding its Merrimack plant.
“New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics worked cooperatively and without a formal agreement for more than two years. During this time, more than 1,500 samples were collected from groundwater, surface water and water supply wells in the surrounding towns,” she said. “In addition, Saint-Gobain voluntarily provided bottled water to residents, commissioned point-of-use treatment systems for more than 50 properties and connected more than 450 properties to municipal water lines.”
She stressed that Saint-Gobain never manufactured PFOA, but it was a component of certain raw material that Saint-Gobain purchased from suppliers.
“Pursuant to the terms of the EPA’s Voluntary Stewardship Agreement, from 2006 to 2015, our suppliers undertook the process of phasing out the use of PFOA in the products they sold to us,” Pokedoff said in a statement, noting, “One of the reasons we’ve grown as an organization is because Saint-Gobain has always kept our surrounding communities top of mind.”
DES reached an agreement with Saint-Gobain earlier this year to provide municipal water to about 300 more properties with contaminated wells; 450 properties have already been hooked up. However, the consent decree does not cover municipal water bills — bills that the homeowners never had to pay previously because they used private wells.
Despite the significance of the consent decree, there are still separate, ongoing negotiations between Saint-Gobain and the Merrimack Village District, the public water company that serves about 25,000 residents in Merrimack.
The total remedial price tag being paid by Saint-Gobain has not yet been publicly disclosed, although state officials said recently that Saint-Gobain already paid about $14 million for work in Litchfield prior to having the consent decree in place.
As part of the consent decree, a full site investigation is required, including testing air, soil, stormwater, groundwater, surface water and monitoring wells. A remedial action plan will also be necessary at the Merrimack plant after stormwater was tested and showed high levels of contamination; a brook near the Merrimack site that leads into the Merrimack River is also picking up levels of contamination.
Tom Kinisky, CEO of Saint-Gobain, said in an earlier statement that a lot of work has already been completed in a relatively short amount of time, given the size and complexity of the issue.
“With this consent decree now signed, we remain committed to working with community partners to finalize the work left to be done,” said Kinisky.
As far as Merrimack Village District’s public water, Clark Freise of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services said he is pleased that a granulated treatment will take place on two public wells now offline, which will help boost the quality of the water in the remaining wells since the treated water will blend into the overall system.
Although the lifetime health advisory is still currently 70 ppt for the two compounds PFOA and PFOS, Freise said DES is still interested in having a toxicologist study a recent draft report to determine if science is informing the agency that the drinking water standard should be different.
“We want the right standards in place and we want to be able to enforce them,” he explained.
Nancy Harrington, Merrimack town councilor, says town officials have been in constant communication with DES throughout the past two years, and significant work is taking place behind the scenes on the PFOA matter.
“Basically, we have taken our responsibility for the public health of Merrimack seriously from day one,” said Harrington.
The EPA has to come up with a national standard, according to Harrington, who said Saint-Gobain must also start responding to some remediation.
“We don’t have the authority to shut them down. Emotionally, I understand the concerns, but legally we have no right,” said Harrington, adding legislation is the best way to address these problems.
Despite paying for bottled water and installing municipal water lines to private wells with contamination nearby, Laurene Allen, one of the organizers of the Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water group, maintains that Saint-Gobain has made no other changes and continues to use unfiltered air stacks.
“They should be out of business until they can prove that they are not polluting our town,” contended Allen. “The exposure has to stop.”
Allen says she has spoken with residents who have thyroid issues, gastrointestinal problems and attention deficit disorder. She stressed that no one can prove that PFOA is causing some of the health problems, but said it does cause concern.
“We are not acknowledged as a health problem, but a data point. Everybody is worried about their liability,” said Allen.
Last month, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promised action on issues relating to PFAS during a two-day regional summit at Exeter High School.
Region 1 Administrator Alexandra Dunn said the EPA “is in action mode on this matter, promising to bring the information gathered during the summit back to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Peter Grevatt, the director of the U.S. EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, said among the broad scope of functions they perform at the EPA, focusing on PFAS and potential health effects is one of the most important things they can do.
“These are families, and these are children and they are precious,” Grevatt said of the people affected by contamination.
Some local residents say the recent consent decree with Saint-Gobain simply isn’t enough, and that the contamination problem is even more complicated now that groundwater contamination has been detected at a parcel next to Saint-Gobain at a level that is 20 times the state standard — a property that is being eyed for 240 apartments.
PFOA was detected at the John J. Flatley site with concentrations of 1,400 nanograms per liter, which exceeds the New Hampshire Ambient Groundwater Quality Standards of 70 ng/L.”
Flatley did not return a phone call seeking comment.
NashuaNews@unionleader.com; Kimberley Haas, Union Leader Correspondent, contributed to this report.