A French industrial textile manufacturer who poisoned drinking water supplies with PFAS “chemicals for ever” over 65 square miles (168 square km) of southern New Hampshire misled regulators about the amount of toxic substance used, a group of state lawmakers and public health advocates accuse.
The company, Saint Gobain, now admits it has used far more PFAS than regulators previously knew, and officials fear that thousands of residents outside the confines of the contamination zone may be drinking contaminated water in a cluster-plagued region. of cancer and other health problems thought to result from PFAS pollution.
Saint Gobain in 2018 agreed to provide clean drinking water in the 65 square mile area as part of a consensus agreement with New Hampshire regulators and overwhelming evidence suggesting it used more PFAS than previously admitted emerged in a collection of documents issued in a separate class action.
“People are sick, there are really high cancer rates and people are literally dead, so when you see what’s going on and the company does this, it’s really shocking,” said Mindi Messmer, a former state representative. who analyzed the documents and sent them to the New Hampshire Attorney General and state regulatory authorities.
Saint Gobain denied wrongdoing. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of approximately 12,000 chemicals used in dozens of industries to make products resistant to water, stains and heat. The highly toxic compounds do not decompose naturally and are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, kidney problems, decreased immunity, birth defects and other serious health problems. They have been called “chemicals forever” due to their longevity in the environment.
The Saint Gobain Performance Plastics facility in Merrimack, New Hampshire has been treating its products with PFOA, a type of PFAS, for decades to make them more durable. The company released PFOA from its smokestacks and the chemicals, once on land, moved through the soil and into aquifers. Hundreds of residential and municipal wells extract from groundwater.
When the company and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) negotiated the 2018 consent agreement, company officials repeatedly stated that they did not use pure PFOA or did not use it, but instead use a diluted PFOA mixture the toxic chemical comprised only about 2%.
In a 2016 letter to state regulators, Saint Gobain wrote that “it has never been used [pure PFOA] as a commodity at any one time “in Merrimack, and in 2014 told the EPA that” it is not and has never been a … user of PFOA per se anywhere in the United States. “
Diluted PFOA would not have spread as much as pure PFOA, and the modeling that determined the boundaries within which Saint Gobain would be responsible for providing clean drinking water and remediation of contamination was developed with the diluted solution as an input.
But the documents released as part of the lawsuit show that Saint Gobain knew he used pure PFOA years before the consent decree.
Evidence includes 2003 emails from company employees explicitly stating that the Merrimack facility has treated its fabric with pure PFOA. Meanwhile, a former Saint Gobain attorney now reporting the irregularities testified that the sales records of 3M, which sold PFOA to Saint Gobain, show that the company purchased “hundreds if not thousands” of pounds of pure PFOA. 3M’s sales records are sealed in the class action.
And a DuPont salesman, who also sold PFAS products in Saint Gobain, testified last year that he “learned they were using [pure PFOA] … And adding it to our products “.
The modeling used to develop the boundaries of the original contamination zone is “fundamentally flawed” because it does not take into account pure PFOA, an engineer hired by Saint Gobain testified in February.
Saint Gobain no longer denies using pure PFOA; however, in a statement to the Guardian, the company wrote that it “vehemently denies any allegation of withholding data or misleading the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.” The information “was not new” because it was contained in 90,000 documents it has provided to DES since 2016, the company wrote.
Messmer said she was skeptical of this explanation: “If you throw 90,000 sheets at someone, is that really a notification?”
In response to a follow-up question as to why it developed the consent decree modeling by assuming diluted PFOA rather than pure PFOA, the company said the type of PFOA was only “a factor considered in defining boundaries.”
In their July letter to the Attorney General’s Office and DES, Messmer and other lawmakers called for an investigation and widening of the boundaries of the contamination zone. The state has “a solid legal basis to hold Saint Gobain fully responsible for their pollution, even beyond the current [boundary]”, The letter reads. The Attorney General’s Office told the Guardian it is reviewing the documents while DES did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some are even frustrated with DES. Documents show that he knew he did not have complete Saint Gobain PFAS purchase records prior to 2004, but he still entered into the consent agreement.
“The regulatory agency didn’t work and I’m really angry with the state departments that should be there to protect the environment and residents,” said Laurene Allen, a Merrimack resident and clean water activist. “Think of the damage that could have been prevented.”
The documents reveal a company executive who said in 2006 that Saint Gobain “should minimize the potential health risks” of PFOA compared to other PFAS and argues that there are no “proven” health risks. But a 1995 company note shows that management had issued a decree to stop using PFOA “because of its toxicity and long half-life.”
The company also conducted blood tests for PFOA on its employees in 2006, but the results remain sealed and the previous owner of the plant in 1980 investigated why his male employees were suffering from impotence and “fever. from polymers “.
“Everyone knew it,” Messmer said.