MERRIMACK — Following Sunday’s protest outside Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the company’s CEO says a Community Advisory Committee could be beneficial to bridge the gap between the company and local residents.
The request to form a community work group was one of six made to Saint-Gobain by the protesters and the Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water regarding ongoing concerns about perfluorooctanoic acid exposure.
“We are advocates of having Community Advisory Committees in the places where we have significant operations, so we would be pleased to discuss the opportunity to form such a committee for the benefit of the Merrimack community,” Thomas Kinisky, CEO of Saint-Gobain, wrote to representatives of Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water. “Having representatives of different points of view whose main objective is to get the best outcome for all stakeholders is always helpful when faced with complex issues.”
Laurene Allen of Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water said the response from Kinisky was a result of bipartisan and unified community consensus.
“We feel it is reasonable and would like you to know that stress and strong feelings in the community could be alleviated by including a community voice in the ongoing process,” said Allen, acknowledging the residents’ needs to have their voices heard during Sunday’s peaceful protest.
The objectives of the group, according to Kinisky, would be to listen and learn, aid in forming outcomes and solutions, and help educate as well as serve as advocates for the community.
Local residents, government leaders, regulators, local advisory groups, employees, company representatives, municipal service officials and the local Chamber of Commerce could participate, said Kinisky.
“In this case, we would also ask the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) if they would like to be engaged in this group as well,” he said.
Protesters on Sunday asked Saint-Gobain for six immediate needs — 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; assistance with the creation of a recycling program due to the increased use of bottled water and the creation of a community participation work group.
“Typically, we start these committees by reaching out to the local community government. So, we will contact Merrimack town officials in the coming days to help us get started … it is something we have been thinking about too and look forward to creating this forum for open communication as soon as possible,” said Kinisky, adding the committee is an ideal forum to discuss some of the other requests made by local residents.
Recently, town officials asked Saint-Gobain to temporarily halt operations after new testing data was revealed showing the ongoing presence of PFOA at the facility. The town council also asked DES to shut down the facility until it is in compliance with new regulations; however, the agency has opted not to take that action.
To date, Saint-Gobain has installed more than 15 miles of water lines connecting more than 500 homes to municipal water since PFOA contamination was discovered. It is also installing filtration units for two municipal water wells in Merrimack, and has distributed more than 200,000 gallons of bottled water to area residents.
Protesters maintain that Saint-Gobain has not done enough in the past three years since the contamination was discovered at the plant.