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Saint-Gobain signs agreement to bring safe drinking water to N.H. homes affected by PFAS contamination

Annie Ropeik

Saint-Gobain has agreed to permanently provide safe drinking water for about 1,000 properties testing above state limits for PFAS chemicals, after the contamination was attributed to air emissions from the company’s facility in Merrimack.

The properties covered by the agreement have up to this point been offered bottled water by Saint-Gobain, some households since 2020, said Mike Wimsatt, director of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ waste management division.

“People are frustrated. You know, they want to have safe, clean water for them and their families,” he said. “Nobody likes carting bottled water or having to have bottled water delivered to their home. They’d much rather have a permanent solution where they can draw water from their tap to consume.”

Saint-Gobain provided permanent drinking water remediation solutions, like new water connections or treatment systems, for about 800 properties, after the 2016 discovery of contaminants in drinking water in Litchfield and Merrimack.

PFAS are agroup of widely-used man-made chemicals that have been linked to harmful health effects like high cholesterol and kidney damage by scientific studies.

In 2019, state regulators lowered the maximum levels of PFOA, one PFAS chemical, allowed in drinking water. After additional sampling, 1,000 new properties tested above the lower standard. The agreement announced Monday addresses the contamination on those properties.

In Bedford, Litchfield, Merrimack and Londonderry, 353 properties will receive either a connection to a waterline or a point-of-entry treatment system to provide water within state limits for PFAS.

The company is required to make a plan by the end of April to provide all properties within the area in which legal agreements indicate Saint-Gobain is responsible for contaminating wells with remedial solutions. That should cover about 600 additional properties that have already been offered bottled water, according to NHDES.

The company will also be required to provide remedial solutions for wells that are identified in future testing.

“We have a number of things to work out. We have a lot of work yet ahead of us. But this is a significant milestone,” Wimsatt said.

Mindi Messmer, who co-founded the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance, said the agreement was a step in the right direction. But, she said, there are still around 1,500 homes in the area that haven’t been sampled yet. And properties outside of the area covered by Saint-Gobain’s 2018 consent decree also don’t have access to resources provided by the company’s remediation efforts.

“There are at least 1,100 or so properties outside of the area Saint-Gobain has accepted responsibility for, that are entirely left out in the cold still. Their wells have been polluted by Saint-Gobain, they are on their own to provide safe water for their families,” she said.

Messmer authored a recent study that showed Merrimack residents had a significantly higher risk for some kinds of cancer than the national average.

New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services is hosting an information session about the agreement on May 4, 2022 at 6:30 pm. Interested community members canregister here.

NHDES personnel will also host office hours to discuss the agreement, which will be announced on the organization’s PFAS investigation website.

Corrected: April 18, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT
A previous version of this story included an incorrect date for New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services' information session about the agreement. The date has been corrected.
Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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