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Merrimack wants Saint-Gobain Plastics to do voluntary air quality testing

Union Leader Correspondent

August 21. 2017 3:48PM
 (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

MERRIMACK — Town officials want hard data on whether GenX, the chemical that replaced DuPont’s C8 used to make Teflon, is potentially being emitted into the air from smokestacks at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.

C8 was previously phased out and replaced with GenX, also known as C6, a chemical with six perfluorinated carbons and still considered a perfluorinated compound; the shorter-chained grease-proofing agent is found in some food packaging materials.

Last week, the Merrimack Town Council voted to send a letter to the state Department of Environmental Services requesting that the agency contact Saint-Gobain, the likely source of water contamination in southern New Hampshire, and request that the company conduct air emissions testing for C6 at its Merrimack plant.

“We do know that C8 was the problem that is no longer being used,” said Nancy Harrington, town council chairman. She asked councilors whether they would be interested in the possibility of having Saint-Gobain now test for C6 air emissions.

According to Harrington, DES cannot require nor complete air analyses on non-regulated emerging contaminants.

“They don’t have the ability to do that — they don’t have the authority,” she said. However, town officials can request that Saint-Gobain do the testing, said Harrington.

Currently, the Office of Scientific Research and Development is examining the impact of C6, and Harrington said she is hopeful that New Hampshire will be included in a pilot study associated with the research.

Councilor Bill Boyd, who was recently appointed by the governor to the New Hampshire Groundwater and Drinking Water Commission, said he strongly supports the initiative. “I think it is worth pursuing,” he said of the C6 air emission testing.

Earlier this summer, a bill designed to further regulate airborne contaminants that might end up in New Hampshire drinking water was not moved forward by legislators.

The amended bill, HB 463, would have required the state to consider tougher standards for acceptable limits of perfluorinated chemicals like perfluorooctanoic acid in drinking water, but it died when a House and Senate conference committee could not agree.

State Rep. Frank Byron of Litchfield was the prime sponsor of the bill, stressing earlier that it was designed to do one thing — fill a hole in state laws that would address pollution emitting devices such as smokestacks.

Litchfield, Merrimack, Bedford and Amherst residences have been struggling with PFOA contamination in their water after Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics allegedly released the chemical out of its smokestack, it landed on the ground and entered groundwater.

The Senate amended the bill in May to focus on potentially lowering the state limit of PFC contamination by implementing an investigation that could focus on the health impact of PFC contamination on prenatal and early childhood health — an amendment that could have changed the methodology that the state uses to set its limits for any contaminant.

“We should ask them to go after it again,” Boyd said of the air emissions bill, which he described as a “clean bill” without the attached amendment.

The council also voted to send a letter to Merrimack legislators asking that they once again submit legislation that will specifically indicate DES’ authority in state laws to address this new pathway of contamination through air emissions.

Last summer, state officials announced that small traces of PFOA contamination were still being released from the stacks at Saint-Gobain in Merrimack and that potential sources of the PFOA may have included chemicals supplied to the company for manufacturing purposes and residual materials contained within the stack emissions at the plant.

At the time, Saint-Gobain agreed to clean the residues from the stacks and perform new emissions testing being observed by DES. In addition, state officials began seeking additional details from Saint-Gobain’s suppliers to determine whether the chemicals being provided to the company contain PFOA or perfluorooctane sulfonate.

In a recent statement, Saint-Gobain says it has been and continues to be focused on providing clean drinking water to the residents of Merrimack, Litchfield and other towns near its facility.

Environment Politics General News Merrimack

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