Photo credit: Jeffrey Hastings
While many people fear health issues that run in their families, many New Hampshire residents have feared an unseen and often undetectable chemical that has spread into our environment. From the coast to mountains and everywhere in between, people have been discovering PFAS contamination problems from air emissions to the actual use of plastics in the environment. No struggle is more significant than what the residents of Merrimack and other towns have gone through due to the leaking of the PFAS chemical into the air and water.
Water Crisis: Southern NH and Saint Gobain
The water crisis in Merrimack, NH, began when the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics (SGPP) manufacturing plant factory obtained the Chemfab company in 2000 and began using the PFAS formulations in their processes, an element in non-stick agents in manufacturing. The company accidentally released contamination of PFAS chemicals (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances or PFAS) into the environment and the drinking water supply. Unfortunately, this chemical continues to be released into the air today as daily deposits contaminate the soil and waterways in Merrimack. With rain and other precipitation, PFAS makes its way into the groundwater, leeching onto other water supplies throughout the state.
The Saint Gobain water issues have affected over 600 private wells in addition to the public water systems in Merrimack and other surrounding areas. The spill and subsequent contamination of groundwater and private wells in the local area were first detected in 2014 — it has taken state government officials years to understand the impact of the spill in surrounding areas. (It was later determined that this chemical had been infiltrating environments since 1987.) Here are some of the most common questions surrounding this issue.
What is PFAS, and how does it impact local Merrimack residents?
PFAS has been used to create products like non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, and foam to fight fires. Due to the spill, thousands of people have been ingesting PFAS chemicals, a known carcinogen that doesn’t leave the body or the environment. Since finding out about the spill, many families and businesses have had to use bottled water for all their needs for many months.
How did the NHDES get involved in the issue?
As the SGPP contamination spill affected hundreds of private wells and public water systems, residents were advised not to drink or cook with tap water. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) responded by issuing orders to Saint Gobain to investigate and remediate the contamination.
What are the health effects of the contamination in Merrimack?
Unfortunately, in a recent study, Merrimack residents are at a significantly higher risk for certain kinds of cancers, including bladder, renal, thyroid, and kidney) then the rest of the nation. Some recent studies on cancer risk stated that Merrimack residents exposed to PFAS from Saint Gobain have two times the amount of PFOA in their blood serum levels than the average across the United States.
What has SGPP done for remediation up to this point?
Saint-Gobain started to provide bottled water to residents in 2016; and in 2017, they established a consent decree with the state to help affected residents install point-of-entry treatment (continue reading to see if your home is within the consent decree boundaries). They also installed a new water treatment system at the manufacturing plant as well as conducted groundwater and soil cleanup activities. The NHDES will continue to monitor the remediation efforts, ensuring Saint-Gobain complies.
Who will receive the latest remediation assistance through SGPP?
According to local news organizations, as of 2022, the government estimates that 1,000 properties in the Bedford, Hudson, Litchfield, Londonderry, and Merrimack townships will receive permanent drinking water as an agreement between the state, SGPP, and the home and business owners. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) and the state attorney general’s office have been crucial in creating this access. Previously, the company provided bottled water, new water line connections, or whole home point-of-entry (POET) filtration systems to provide clean water to properties in the immediate area.
What are the newest additions to the SGPP agreements?
In 2019, state officials lowered the standard for maximum PFOA chemicals. They also sampled these 1,000 new properties and found them higher than the standard. Some of these homes have received bottled water from Saint-Gobain since 2020. These properties will benefit and have been benefiting from this newest agreement in 2022. While these agreements have taken a long time to develop, representatives from the environmental services, attorney general, and House of Representatives in NH all indicate that this agreement is moving the PFAS contamination conversation in the right direction.
The Saint Gobain Decree and Rebate Program
Within the agreement, the following will be provided to those who reside within the Saint Gobain 2018 consent decree —
- Three hundred fifty-three properties in Bedford, Litchfield, Merrimack, and Londonderry will receive a new city water connection or a point-of-entry water filtration system to bring the PFAS within state limits.
- As different properties with water contamination are identified within these regions, the company must remediate these future discoveries with appropriate water testing.
The specific areas that received benefits from the SGPP agreements are as follows:
- Bedford, South of County Road & East of Liberty Hill Road — Pennichuck Water Works can evaluate the properties’ connection so that those who have tested above state standards can be connected to existing water lines, and they (SGPP) must offer POETs to the remaining properties that test above State standards for which NHDES approves the use of a POET.
- Hillcrest Road Area, Litchfield — Pennichuck Water Works can evaluate the properties’ connection so that those tested above State standards can be connected to existing water lines.
- Wildcat Falls Area & Brenda Lane, Merrimack — NHDES and Merrimack Village District will evaluate extending water lines to properties testing above State standards throughout this area and fund such waterline extensions.
- Other areas — In other regions of the “Ring” where water lines already are and where NHDES and SGPP both agree that there’s no evidence that another party is at least partially responsible, SGPP will work with local water providers. Where NHDES and SGPP agree (after examining more data) that the evidence does not indicate that another party is reasonably responsible, SGPP will implement the proper remedies as outlined in the agreement.
Unfortunately, up to 1,500 homes in the area have yet to have water testing done. And at least 1,100 properties outside the decree area have wells polluted by SGPP but are not included in the agreement.
The Saint Gobain Contamination Map
If you would like to see the main decree area as well as the testing results across the state, you can look at the state-provided PFAS map, comparing it with the Saint Gobain Consent Decree.
While SGPP is one of the most extensive contaminations in the region, it was only one source of PFAS in NH environments.
Thankfully for those not in the decree, the NHDES has also offered a secondary rebate program, separate from the SGPP, where other NH well water homeowners can obtain a point-of-entry whole-home filtration system or receive city water connections at no cost to them. This is expediting the help NH homeowners who rely on well water that has been contaminated can receive. To learn more about this unique program, visit our PFAS Free Program.
While the water issues facing Merrimack and the surrounding regions are substantial, the state and other governing bodies are working to ensure that SGPP makes the contamination as right as they can — by ensuring that future residents continue to have clean drinking water.
Ultimately, the Saint Gobain water contamination in Merrimack is continually getting updated — be sure to check the Saint Gobain and PFAS Water Contamination Map to ensure you are getting the help that is mandated! If you don’t live in the SGPP-mandated region, check if you qualify for our NH PFAS-free rebate program today.
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