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N.H. lawmakers and community advocates call on state regulators to shut down Saint-Gobain facility in Merrimack

Annie Ropeik

A group of New Hampshire lawmakers and community advocates called on the state’s Department of Environmental Services to shut down operations at the Saint-Gobain manufacturing facility in Merrimack last week.

The call comes after state regulators sent Saint-Gobain a letter of deficiency on November 18. Among other deficiencies, regulators say they observed an unauthorized bypass stack on the facility’s air emissions treatment system.

The system is designed to burn off harmful PFAS chemicals that the plant emits into the air, which have contaminated the drinking water of communities nearby.

The letter of deficiency says Saint-Gobain released uncontrolled emissions of PFOA and PFOS, two PFAS chemicals, during a bypass event in September.

The company responded to regulators on Friday, December 3, saying the bypass is a necessary safety feature.

Saint-Gobain says the bypass was included on drawings submitted to the town of Merrimack for building permits, and cited correspondence with DES throughout the permitting process that mentioned the bypass.

The company must respond to state regulators with additional information in the coming weeks about how they will manage the bypass, how they will record and report bypass events, and how they plan to shut down operations when the emissions control system is down.

In the letter of deficiency from the Department of Environmental Services, regulators said the facility continued to operate equipment while the emissions control device was shut down, and the company’s Air Pollution Control Equipment Monitoring Plan did not contain appropriate shutdown requirements.

Regulators say Saint-Gobain did not allow for emissions of PFAS chemicals from the bypass in the modeling analysis in their application, and that DES considers uncontrolled emissions from the bypass to be excess emissions, which Saint-Gobain must report as permit deviations.

In their first response, the company said the use of the bypass “only when necessary” does not result in excess emissions as defined by DES’s rules, and they will discuss the emissions in future responses.

Contamination linked to the Saint-Gobain factory was discovered in hundreds of Merimack’s public and private wells in 2016, and some residents are still receiving bottled water.

State representative Rosemarie Rung called on New Hampshire DES to take quicker action on Saint-Gobain’s emissions at a press conference Monday, November 29 .

“Allowing the contamination of our air, land, and water to continue for nearly 6 years, that we know of, is unacceptable. We have been patient enough,” she said.

Nancy Murphy, a former state representative and a Merrimack town councillor, said her statements did not reflect the position of the town or the council. She said there was a lack of trust towards the company.

“We have seen a pattern of activities - action or inaction - for such a long period of time that I have no trust that Saint-Gobain will comply with regulations and expectations, whether it’s permitting or otherwise,” she said. “Time and history has shown us that we certainly have something to be skeptical of.”

A letter of deficiency is an “entry-level” response, according to Sheri Eldridge, a DES administrator. The purpose of the letter is to put the company on notice of deficiencies, and to gather more information before further evaluations.

Eldridge says DES is following the normal process to evaluate the scope of the issue and gather information before determining the next steps. The company says they plan to work with DES to resolve the matter.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated after Saint-Gobain sent its response to state regulators.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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