Saint Gobain

Fed up with the delays, Merrimack town officials will file a lawsuit against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics next week after the company failed to install its air filtration device mandated by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

“Saint-Gobain cannot legally continue to operate in the town of Merrimack,” said town council chairman Tom Koenig. “The town calls on DES to enforce the terms of the permit issued to Saint-Gobain and require that it stop operations until the regenerative thermal oxidizer is operational. To do otherwise is to allow Saint-Gobain to flout New Hampshire’s environmental laws and is an affront to the people of New Hampshire, including the town.”

Last year, DES mandated that Saint-Gobain install its RTO, which is an air filtration system, within 12 months. Thursday was the one-year deadline, yet the filtration device has not been installed at the Merrimack plant.

Saint-Gobain has shown a “callous disregard for this community,” said town councilor Bill Boyd, explaining now is the time to explore all legal options.

Attorney Joanna Tourangeau of Drummond Woodsum law firm, legal counsel for the town, said Friday that Merrimack officials will be filing for emergency injunctive relief against Saint-Gobain next week at Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua.

The lawsuit will ask the court to do whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Saint-Gobain operations are not causing additional violations of ambient groundwater quality standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including a potential shut down, closure or curtailment of operations, according to Tourangeau.

“All of that is on the table,” she said, adding town councilors remain hopeful that DES will step up and enforce its permit.

In a statement issued on Friday, DES said Saint-Gobain submitted a written notification to DES on Thursday that installation of its RTO, which aims to combust emissions of perfluorinated compounds, had not been completed as required.

“A full written report on the matter is due within 10 days. NHDES does not comment on potential or pending enforcement actions or investigations. The matter has been referred to the Attorney General’s Office,” said the statement from DES.

Technical design

Mark Rayfield, CEO of Saint-Gobain North America, said Friday that the design of the filtration device is technical and complicated, and that they have teams at the plant and central level assisting with the project.

“We have never stopped working on this RTO. We have been committed to this from day one,” said Rayfield.

Previously, Saint-Gobain requested a one-year extension to install its air filtration system, however DES denied the request stating that a delay would create a danger to public health.

The company cited, in part, that the pandemic has led to material delays in the supply chain that make the deadline unworkable. It also requested the extension because Merrimack officials are appealing the air permit and asking that the state also mandate that a hydrogen fluoride scrubber be installed as part of the air filtration cleanup process; that appeal has not yet been heard and is scheduled for hearings in April.

“Although I know there is frustration and I respect that because it has been five years … we have really tried to be community leaders in this and do everything we can to support the community,” said Rayfield, adding 14 miles of water lines have been installed since pollution was first detected and 50 point-of-use treatment systems have been installed on private properties.

Sarita Croce, assistant public works and wastewater director, said groundwater monitoring wells at the Saint-Gobain facility detected its highest amount of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in March of 2019, which was 69,500 parts per trillion compared to the state’s groundwater quality standard of 12 ppt.

“Saint-Gobain in the past five years has not installed any groundwater or surface water remediation systems,” asid Croce.

Building permit

Last November, Saint-Gobain submitted a building permit application to Merrimack Fire Rescue for its future filtration work, however the building department initially deemed the application incomplete and sought additional information, according to town officials.

“We don’t have a building permit from the town of Merrimack,” said Chris Angier, regional health and safety manager and environmental project manager with Saint-Gobain.

Angier said Saint-Gobain was hoping to use a phased approach for its building permit application, however the town is asking that it have one permit for the entire project, which is slowing the process. If the permit can be obtained soon, Angier said they are on track to start the RTO in Merrimack in June.

The RTO manufacturer is ready to ship the filtration unit to Saint-Gobain in April, and the construction will be completed at a facility in Maryland, he explained.

“This is an emergency public health problem,” maintains Tourangeau.

Hundreds of homes with private, contaminated wells in the region have been connected to municipal water after Saint-Gobain extended water lines in several communities once contamination was discovered at one of its faucets at the Merrimack plant in 2016. Various levels of PFOA are still being found in groundwater throughout Merrimack and surrounding towns, with 25 potential contamination release areas under investigation at the Saint-Gobain plant.

Craig Wright, director of the Air Resources Division for DES, said recently that although Saint-Gobain has reduced its PFOA emissions since 2006, the reformulations have resulted in the use of replacement PFAS compounds in the raw materials.