About 1,500 residential wells in southern New Hampshire have been found to be polluted with harmful “eternal chemicals” due to emissions from a nearby plastics factory.
About 1,350 others have been identified as potentially polluted, but the company responsible is refusing to pay for well testing or remediation.
The pollution comes from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, which manufactures everything from radar domes to special hose insulation, The Boston Globe reported Sunday. The plant emits PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
Exposure to PFAS, even when the amount of PFAS is low, has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, liver disease, high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, and low birth weight. the infant’s birth, according to the CDC.
PFAS are often referred to as “eternal chemicals” because they take a long time to break down in the environment and never truly break down completely. This means that they essentially stay in your body permanently if you are exposed.
The plastics plant released thousands of pounds of PFAS down its smokestacks over the years, even before Saint-Gobain took over the plant in 2001, the World reported. The chemicals traveled with the wind for at least six miles in all directions, entering groundwater and private wells.
State officials were made aware of the pollution in 2016 after a particular PFAS chemical was found in such high concentrations in the Merrimack water system that the state shut down two public wells, the World reported.
The concentration of PFAS in the Merrimack wells exceeded concentration levels deemed safe by 10 times, the newspaper writes. Since then, New Hampshire has adopted even stricter PFAS concentration standards for drinking water.
Saint-Gobain took responsibility for the pollution in a settlement agreement it concluded with the State in 2018, the World reported. In the agreement, the company promised to alert owners in an area of about 65 square miles around their plant to possible contamination of their wells, cover the costs of PFAS testing and provide drinking water. to many contaminated wells.
But, above all, writes the newspaper, Saint-Gobain did not agree to cover the tests and the remediation of the wells which could have been potentially polluted by another source.
Since April 2022, the World reported, Saint-Gobain had identified 3,691 wells that may have been contaminated, of which about 1,000 had PFAS concentrations higher than those allowed by the state.
But there are many more wells that Saint-Gobain won’t take responsibility for, including about 700 inside the 65-square-mile zone, and another 650 just outside, the World reported.
Environmental advocates told the World they think there are probably many more wells in the region that are contaminated with PFAS because of Saint-Gobain.
Peter Clark, spokesperson for Saint-Gobain, told the World that the company should not be held liable for wells within the area which may have been contaminated by other means.
“Given the proximity of these properties to other potential sources of PFAS, including a nearby fire station, our company believes that other entities should be involved in sampling efforts at this specific location,” did he declare.
In a letter to Saint-Gobain last month, state officials urged the company to submit a plan to test the 700 state-identified wells in the 65-square-mile area, the World reported.
In a separate statement, the newspaper reported, state environmental officials said many wells outside of this area are located “in impact zones inferred from Saint-Gobain releases.”
“All water supply wells in the [65-square-mile] Outer Boundary presents some level of risk of contamination due to air emissions from the Saint-Gobain facility and should therefore be assessed,” Jeffrey Marts, an Environmental Services Department official, wrote in the letter.
Saint-Gobain has yet to test 40% of the wells it claimed responsibility for in 2018, and had only provided bottled water to around a quarter of residents who now rely on bottled water , the World reported based on a report the company provided to the state last month.
Saint-Gobain said in the report that it was unable to reach at least 1,250 of the owners.
Clark and other company officials told the World they’re doing everything they can to reach out to owners, including by mail, holding public meetings, and providing updates to officials and on the company’s website.
When asked why they weren’t knocking on doors, World wrote that Clark did not respond directly.
“Our company has taken all reasonable steps to ensure residents are informed and kept up to date with our work,” he said.
Nearly 1,500 wells have been identified to date for which Saint-Gobain has taken responsibility, the World reported.
So far, Clark has told the Worldthe company distributed nearly 500,000 gallons of bottled water and installed more than 15 miles of water pipes that provided clean drinking water to 622 homes.
Saint-Gobain has also spent millions of dollars to put in place measures to reduce PFAS emissions from the plant, Clark added, although environmental advocates have questioned the effectiveness of these measures. and how the company tests for PFAS.
Last December, the World reported, state officials released a report that found that between 2009 and 2018, residents of Merrimack had a 42% higher rate of kidney cancer than residents of the rest of New Hampshire.
The study also found unusually high rates of myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and bladder, colon, and testicular cancers in Merrimack.
“While these preliminary data do not necessarily indicate the presence of a group of cancers, any data indicating the possibility of an increase in the disease in our communities deserves further investigation,” said Ministry official Patricia Tilley. of Health and Social Services, in a press release. accompanying their report in December.
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