Town officials in Merrimack say they are pleased, for the most part, about the terms of a new settlement agreement reached between Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.
“Based on our vigilance, the town brought to bear the need for DES to address the flawed air permit they issued to Saint-Gobain,” said Sarita Croce, assistant public works director for the town’s wastewater treatment division.
As part of the consent decree signed last weekend, Saint-Gobain has agreed to temporarily cut back on its production — at least a reduction of 433 hours in monthly operating hours and a 42% reduction in PFOA emissions.
“That reduction is more than half the total time that they can operate,” said Tom Koenig, town council chairman.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial terms of the new agreement is that Saint-Gobain is now required to “correctly calculate and control the deadly hydrogen fluoride emissions,” said Croce, maintaining those chemicals could potentially reach 1.4 million parts per trillion of Gen-X emissions that were initially ignored in the original air permit.
And perhaps the most substantial part of the agreement is the installation of an air filtration device known as a regenerative thermal oxidizer by the end of July. The deadline for installation was originally Feb. 11.
“This was a great opportunity for us,” Koenig said of the new consent decree.
Although the town’s cease and desist order against Saint-Gobain was rejected by DES, town officials acknowledge that the consent decree addresses several of their concerns.
Lia LoBello, spokesperson for DES, said in an email that DES’ rejection of the cease and desist order “confirms that the town’s order lacked factual or legal basis, that we have been in compliance with our air permit limits for the year, even without the (regenerative thermal oxidizer), and that some of the narrative around our operations and its impact to the community have been overstated.”
Three expert consultants and an environmental attorney were used to develop the town’s calculations, according to Koenig, challenging DES and Saint-Gobain, if they continue to believe that the town’s claims are inaccurate, to sit down with town officials and review the data.
Croce said Thursday that even though the town was told in 2016 that the company did not use PFOA in any of its process operations, stack testing in 2018 discovered that PFOA was present in their coating chemicals — upwards of 24,000 parts per trillion. LoBello stressed that even in missing the original Feb. 11 deadline for the installation of the air filtration device, “Saint-Gobain has been and will be in compliance with all air emission limits in our current permit and the emission limits aimed at ensuring no impact to groundwater.”
Town Councilor Peter Albert said Thursday that Saint-Gobain has not stayed on schedule with its requirements.
“There have been so many inaccurate things by this company. It has been so mismanaged,” said Albert.
Mark Rayfield, CEO of Saint-Gobain North America, said earlier that the deadline for the regenerative thermal oxidizer was tight from the beginning.
“From day one we have not stopped working on this,” said Rayfield, explaining it is a complicated design that was delayed further by COVID-19 and other factors. “We have never stopped working on this RTO. We have been committed to this from day one.”