A special air filtration device that reaches temperatures of 1,832 degrees to destroy PFAS will be in operation by the end of the month at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Merrimack, as mandated by state environmental officials.
“It is running,” Gabriel Caridade, Saint-Gobain’s plant manager, said Tuesday during a tour of the Merrimack plant.
The $5.3 million project was required by the state Department of Environmental Services in an effort to reduce PFAS discovered in local wells and public water supplies.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are a group of man-made chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s in consumer products like cookware, food packaging, and stain repellants. The Environmental Protection Agency says the chemicals do not break down and can accumulate over time in the environment and the body, posing health risks to humans.
Final tests on Saint-Gobain’s regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO) are underway and the “ramp-up” process began last week to slowly increase the temperature within the 60-foot stack — the company’s new single point of emissions, said Chris Angier, the company’s environment project manager.
He said all of the other smokestacks at the facility have either been removed or will be.
“The unique thing about the RTO is that it is operating at a much higher temperature than those (old) towers ever operated at, and that is why we are going to see much more destruction than we have ever seen of PFAS,” he said.
The RTO was initially required to be installed by Feb. 11. However, in a settlement with the state, Saint-Gobain agreed to pay a civil penalty, reduce operating hours, decrease contaminated emissions by 42% and install its special air filtration device at the Merrimack plant by the end of July.
Caridade said the project is about two weeks ahead of schedule and slightly over budget. Twenty-seven contractors and 147 people have been working on its installation since April. He described it as two years of work compressed into four months.
The company also agreed to enhance its stack-testing protocols. Half of its civil penalty of $200,000 will be suspended if Saint-Gobain complies with the terms of the agreement.
None of the plant’s 200 employees were laid off or furloughed during the plant’s reduced hours, Caridade said.
“We are all hard-working people who try to do our best,” he said of the company’s workforce, adding he is proud to be part of an organization that is stepping up to do what needs to be done.
There are still dozens of homes near Saint-Gobain that are receiving bottled water because of air emissions that contaminated the groundwater in private wells. Several public water connections have also been made in Merrimack and nearby communities in an effort to remedy the problem.
Angier said Saint-Gobain continues to work with DES representatives to coordinate a timeline that would offer a more permanent solution to homes receiving bottled water.