MERRIMACK — Protesters gathered outside Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics on Sunday, saying they are frustrated more hasn’t been done to stop contamination after it was discovered at the plant more than three years ago.
The protesters, holding signs that read “Don’t drink the water” and “Saint is the sinner,” are asking Saint-Gobain to test all private wells in Merrimack and provide bottled water to the entire town.
“We have been poisoned throughout southern New Hampshire,” said Anne Tarry Young of Merrimack, one of about three dozen protesters.
Tarry Young said her family moved to Merrimack 20 years ago seeking a community outside Boston with clean air and water. Now, the area physician says she will work to increase surveillance for various cancers related to perfluorooctanoic acid exposure.
Recently, town officials asked Saint-Gobain to temporarily halt operations after new testing data was revealed. The town council also asked the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to shut down the facility until it is in compliance with new regulations; however the agency has chosen not to take that action.
According to local officials, a test sample from the Saint-Gobain facility in March found 69,500 parts per trillion of PFOA at a groundwater monitoring well, which is up from prior testing in November that calculated 3,300 ppt. at the same well. The new state regulation is 12 ppt.
Thomas Kinisky, CEO of Saint-Gobain, maintains that conclusions by the town council that Saint-Gobain has increased its use of PFOA at the Merrimack plant are inaccurate, and are based on very select results that he says were taken out of context.
“These misstatements create unnecessary alarm among residents. Also, your call to shut down our operations, based on these misstatements about select results, has also been difficult for the nearly 200 employees of our Merrimack facility who come to work every day and create high performance materials used to make important products ranging from hazmat suits for firefighters and body armor for our military, to the roofs of well-known American and international public spaces and landmarks,” Kinisky wrote in a letter last week to town officials.
Kinisky said he understands that emotions around per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances may run high, but stressed that the limited data presented to the town council included results from analyses “that did not meet laboratory quality standards, thus skewing the picture in a manner that led you to create an incorrect and very unfortunate narrative.”
With new state regulations in place, Carol DiPirro of Merrimack said Saint-Gobain simply isn’t doing enough to clean up the contaminants, adding it also isn’t paying for efforts being made locally to address the problem.
“Their response is limited, and it is not good enough. They have had more than enough time,” said DiPirro. “We know people have jobs there and we don’t want to ruin their jobs, but the company can step up and do the right thing.”
Wearing medical masks and holding signs, the protesters peacefully stood across from the Saint-Gobain facility on Sunday while also delivering a letter to the company asking for a commitment to stop all PFAS air emissions; a comprehensive work plan to identify and address soil contamination in the entire town; testing of all private wells in Merrimack; providing bottled water to all Merrimack residents; assisting with the creation of a recycling program due to the increased use of bottled water; and the creation of a Community Participation Work Group.
“This whole town should be on bottled water,” said state Rep. Wendy Thomas, organizer of Sunday’s protest.
“We are here today hoping that companies like Saint-Gobain will think first before they take dangerous shortcuts for a small profit. That is our message, and we hope people will hear it,” echoed Tom Young of Merrimack.
Last month, local officials said a sample from a chemical dip pan inside the plant discovered 25,600 ppt of PFOA, while a roof drain sample contained 52,000 ppt; contamination was discovered in every roof drain at the property.
In his letter to the town council, Kinisky said the dip pan data cited is from a sample analysis that showed instrumentation error.
“Out of eleven samples taken in the dip pans, nine showed PFOA at non-detect and two sample runs encountered instrumentation error in the PFOA analysis,” he wrote, emphasizing that Saint-Gobain never manufactured PFOA, and its suppliers committed to phasing out PFOA in its manufacturing processes several years ago.
“On behalf of our 200 employees, we are pleased that the NHDES agrees that there is no basis to shut down our plant operations,” added Kinisky.