By Alex Malm
After years of being at the center of a controversy regarding PFOAS contamination, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics announced that it would soon be closing its doors in Merrimack.
“Today, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics announced that it will restructure its Composite Solutions business in the United States and will close its facility in Merrimack, NH,” a statement from the company read. “This decision comes after careful consideration and strategic evaluation of what is best for achieving Saint-Gobain’s core business goals and is in line with the company’s mission and plan.”
The plastics company has been part of an environmental investigation for a number of years.
According to NH Department of Environmental Services press release from last year, PFAs were first discovered in the area drinking water in 2016, “which NHDES attributed to air emissions from the SGPP plant in Merrimack.”
Then “NHDES launched a massive testing effort to determine the extent of the contamination and conducted emergency rulemaking to establish a groundwater quality standard for PFOA of 70 parts per trillion.”
“SGPP and NHDES worked cooperatively to quickly address those properties at greatest risk, providing interim bottled water to impacted residents, and point-of-use treatment systems (POET) or waterline connections to over 500 properties, primarily in Litchfield and Merrimack,” according to a 2022 press release. “In 2018, the State and SGPP entered into a Consent Decree (CD) memorializing responsibilities with respect to the work already completed, providing waterline connections to an additional 302 properties, and setting the groundwork for future remediation efforts.”
In 2019, NHDES lowered the state drinking water maximum contaminant level (MCL) to 12 parts per trillion for PFOA, according to a press release and directed SGPP to commence an extensive well sampling program.
“Pursuant to the agreement, a total of 353 specific properties have been identified to receive either a waterline connection or a POET,” the release reads. “Further, SGPP must propose an alternate water solution for the more than 600 remaining properties that have been offered bottled water. In addition, as sampling is completed, SGPP will propose solutions for newly identified wells testing over standards.
In an email to the Londonderry Times, Town Manager, Mike Malaguti, said about 1,000 wells in Londonderry have been identified as having PFAS levels over the current standards. Just under half are in the consent decree area.
“In 2018, the State of NH negotiated with Saint-Gobain a framework to remediate the contamination in the form of a consent decree,” Malaguti wrote in an email. “The decree set an area in the western third of Londonderry and made Saint-Gobain solely responsible for remediation in that area.”
Malaguti said the town has explored all legal options “including the potential for legal action against Saint-Gobain.”
“Because Londonderry does not have a municipal water system, the town does not have money damages that would be a requirement for such action,” Malaguti said. “Multiple attorneys have also advised the town that municipalities in NH are legally prohibited from litigating on behalf of our affected residents.”
However, Malaguti said the town has worked closely for years with DES to remediate PFAS in Londonderry and expand clean, plentiful drinking water across town.”
“This cooperative relationship produced the state’s PFAS removal rebate program, which provides residents with PFAS exceedances outside the consent decree area up to $5,000 to install a point-of-entry treatment system, or $10,000 to connect to a public water system,” Malaguti said.
According to Malaguti, hundreds of residents have signed up for the program.
He stated that the town is in the process of seeking grant funding to upgrade supply infrastructure, which is “foundational to an expanded public water system across town.”
“Additionally, through cooperation with the state, including in some cases grant funding, about half a dozen community water systems in town are leaving their contaminated wells behind and connecting to uncontaminated water lines,” Malaguti said.
“Since voters have overwhelmingly supported expanded access to clean, plentiful drinking water in each of the last two town elections, with the support and leadership of the Town Council, my staff, and I will continue to aggressively pursue this goal.” Malaguti stated.
According to a statement from the company Saint-Gobain will “continue to work closely with the NH Department of Environmental Services on the ongoing environmental investigation and remediation effort, including providing bottled water and permanent alternate water, as appropriate, within the Consent Decree area.”
In an email to supporter, Hayley Jones, the state director for SlingShot, said they received a call in 2021 from Londonderry resident, Ray Breslin, who was concerned about PFAS levels in local wells.
“I worked with Ray to form Concerned Citizens for Clean Water, a group of folks impacted by PFAS pollution and dedicated to community health,” Jones said.
Jones said over the past couple of years now, Town Councilor, Ron Dunn, along with his wife ,Cara, and Deb Paul “worked to raise awareness about PFAS contamination, organized to bring clean drinking water to town, and hold polluters like Saint-Gobain accountable.”
“These leaders in Londonderry followed in the footsteps of Laurene Allen and the Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water, who have been leading the PFAS fight in Southern NH since 2016,” Jones said.
Peter Clark, a spokesperson for Saint-Gobain, in a follow-up email said the official close date will be based on the “time needed to fulfill existing contracts, and we expect the wind down process to continue into 2024.”
Clark said there are 164 employees at the Merrimack facility and alternative roles and relocation assistance is going to be offered to employees who want to remain with the company.
“Support packages will be made available to those who will not continue,” Clark said.