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Merrimack residents stage protest outside Saint-Gobain plant

Union Leader Correspondent

June 23. 2018 6:05PM
A newly released federal study recommends a change in determining safe levels of PFOA or PFAS. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent file photo)

MERRIMACK - Prompted by a newly released federal study that recommends a drastic revision to safe exposure levels of the class of industrial chemicals known as PFOA or PFAS, 15 concerned citizens held a protest Saturday morning outside the grounds of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.

Organized by the Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water (MCCW), the action comes days after the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a groundbreaking report that suggested that people should avoid drinking water with any more than seven parts per trillion PFOS and 11 ppt for PFOA - substantially lower than the 70 ppt standard that the Environmental Protection Agency has recommended since 2016.

"We knew that this was eventually going to come out," said Nancy Murphy, a Merrimack resident and MCCW co-founder. "We're trying to do our best to raise awareness and advocate for the health needs of our residents."

Murphy, a 32-year town resident who is also a candidate for state representative, said the presence of PFOA has had a tremendous impact on both the town and her own household.

"We've got sick people all over Merrimack. My own son, 14 years old and a healthy kid, was diagnosed with Graves' disease and lost 54 pounds in just two months because of a thyroid disorder.

"He had his thyroid removed. I have six kids, three of them are adopted, and I have multiple kids with thyroid disorders. Those three aren't related to me and they aren't related to each other, but what do they have in common? Merrimack."

According to the HHS report, studies have suggested that PFOA exposure has links to reproductive and developmental toxicity, liver damage and thyroid disease.

PFOA was found in two Merrimack public wells in 2016 at the same time that the substance was discovered in four faucets at the Saint-Gobain plant. Additionally, groundwater contamination at a level that is 20 times the state standard has been detected in a neighboring parcel of land that is on track to house 240 apartments.

Laurene Allen, another MCCW co-founder, said she hopes that the report compels Granite State regulators to adopt a tougher PFOA ppt standard. While several states have stricter limits, New Hampshire currently uses the EPA standard of 70 ppt.

"If you look at what Vermont has done, they're right on this. Their standard is 20 ppt and they want the federal standard to be more protective. They want this declared a hazardous substance, and they want the whole class of chemicals looked at," Allen said. "But New Hampshire sticks with the federal limits because they know the federal regulators are slow and are not going to do anything about this."

Allen noted that the disparity between Vermont and New Hampshire's emissions regulations was a primary factor of Saint-Gobain's 2002 decision to close a plant in Bennington, Vt., and double the size of the Merrimack plant, citing a 2001 Bennington Banner article in which a company official said Vermont's regulatory standards influenced the decision to move operations.

On Thursday, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) issued a statement indicating that the agency was currently in the process of reviewing the federal report. Additionally, Senate Bill 309, passed by both the House and Senate, would require NHDES to develop surface water standards and enact stricter drinking water standards in regard to PFOA.

Gov. Chris Sununu has expressed his support for SB 309 and stated his intent to sign it into law.

Environment Health Public Safety Merrimack

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