All Sections

Home | Environment

Two dozen areas at Saint-Gobain plastics plant may be contaminated

Union Leader Correspondent

October 11. 2018 10:08AM
A large number of people attend a meeting hosted by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services on Wednesday in Merrimack to update citizens on the status of the PFOA investigation in the region. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

Residents review a map of the PFOA site investigation area in southern New Hampshire prior to a public meeting Wednesday in Merrimack on the subject. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

MERRIMACK — Environmental officials said Wednesday that more than two dozen areas at the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant in Merrimack are under investigation for possible releases of polyfluoroalkyl contamination.

There are currently 25 potential release areas being studied, according to Jeff Marts, project manager with the Hazardous Waste Remediation Bureau of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Although those areas have not been confirmed as actual release pathways, they are being explored in great detail, Marts told a large crowd gathered for a public information meeting updating residents on the perfluorodecanoic acid investigation in southern New Hampshire.

Some of those potential contamination release areas include stormwater pipes, sanitary sewer pipes and discrete spills from the past several decades, he said.

It has already been determined that a section of stormwater pipes on the Saint-Gobain property are compromised, and tests have discovered groundwater contamination in those areas, according to Marts.

Saint-Gobain will be installing a wastewater pretreatment system in 2019 in an effort to minimize the amount of PFAS contamination going down the drains, he explained.

“Would you have standing to file suit and seek a court injunction against Saint-Gobain’s ongoing air emissions?” asked Brian Stisser, a local resident.

Clark Freise, assistant commissioner of DES, acknowledged that he is not an attorney, but said he does not have the authority to shut down the company.

“We have a state law, and if they are in compliance, I am not aware I can go beyond that as an injunction,” he told the audience, adding the new air emissions law just went into effect and Saint-Gobain is following it.

Katharine Hodge of Merrimack said the state has been so busy completing sample tests and wasting money for the past 2 1/2 years instead of setting legal limits on the contamination. “You do have the authority to shut down Saint-Gobain ... stop the bull. Start telling us the truth,” said Hodge.

This year, more than 200 samples have been taken from the smokestacks at Saint-Gobain and from its raw materials and control equipment. About 10 PFAS compounds have been discovered in some fraction of the stack tests, said Catherine Beahm, an air permit programs manager with the Air Resources Division of DES.

Saint-Gobain has recently been ordered to seek a permit to install air control emissions at its site, and once that permit is issued, the company has 12 months to install that system, she said.

Beahm explained that the company has already taken several steps to replace ductwork, clean its stacks and clean its roof from contamination, which she said has significantly reduced the amount of PFAS being detected.

“Unfortunately we are finding these compounds throughout the state,” said Freise, adding DES will develop a plan and budget for developing surface water quality standards by the start of 2020.

More than 400 properties in southern New Hampshire have been hooked up to public water since PFOA contamination was discovered in 2016 in private wells near Saint-Gobain; those efforts have been funded by the company.

Freise said there are still 306 properties throughout Merrimack, Bedford and Litchfield that still have contaminated private wells that will be hooked up to municipal water in the spring of 2019.

A representative from Saint-Gobain was not present on Wednesday to speak at the meeting.

Public Safety Environment Health Merrimack

More Headlines

Granite Bridge decision