MERRIMACK — Citing supply chain delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is seeking a one-year extension on installing an air filtration system mandated by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.
But town officials say if the extension to February 2022 is granted, the town’s groundwater will have been contaminated for six years at that point.
“To us, there is no justification for the extension,” Nancy Harrington, Merrimack town councilor, told the Commission on the Environmental and Public Health Impacts of Per-fluorinated Chemicals during a remote meeting on Friday.
Saint-Gobain’s legal counsel is arguing that even under ideal circumstances, a 12-month deadline is tight for completing a $4.6 million project of such magnitude.
“COVID-19 also has affected lead times up and down supply chains, including those related for the various components needed for the construction and installation of the (regenerative thermal oxidizer). ... The vendor Saint-Gobain is using to construct the RTO itself also has expressed concerns with lead times of its own suppliers,” its legal counsel, McLane Middleton Professional Association, wrote in a petition for a variance to DES.
The company also cites the town of Merrimack’s appeal of the permit; the town is asking the state to also mandate that a hydrogen fluoride scrubber be installed as part of the air filtration cleanup process.
“Saint-Gobain has much deeper pockets than we do,” Harrington said, stressing town officials are opposed to granting any type of extension.
Harrington argued that the air filtration system can accommodate a hydrogen fluoride scrubber, stressing there have been “very dangerous hydrogen fluoride emissions” from the site. In addition, she said half of the municipal water supply is currently shut down because of contamination.
Jeff Marts of the NHDES Hazardous Waste Remediation Bureau said there are currently 25 potential contamination release areas at Saint-Gobain’s Merrimack plant being investigated.
“This investigation is substantial,” he said, noting one area with 70,000 parts per trillion of PFOA discovered in 2019. The EPA has established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion.
Saint-Gobain states in its petition that the company is having its own COVID-related delays, specifically travel restrictions and the company’s current requirement that anyone who takes public transportation must self-quarantine and not enter the facility for two weeks.
A hearing has been set for Aug. 5 to discuss the request to extend the deadline. A separate hearing will be held on Dec. 14 on the town’s appeal.