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Protest accuses Saint-Gobain of ‘contaminating Merrimack’

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Toting posters critical of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Merrimack, protesters – including a "grim-reaper" – staged a rally Sunday afternoon along Daniel Webster Highway across from the firm's main entrance.

MERRIMACK – A group of 60 or so sign-toting, mask-wearing protesters staged a “peaceful protest” early Sunday afternoon, lining up across from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the manufacturing plant they claim is contaminating Merrimack’s water and negatively impacting residents’ health.

The protest, which featured posters reading “PFAS are Toxic like our air and water,” “Saint is the Sinner,” “Hey, Saint-Gobain, get the PFAS out” and, simply, “Don’t drink the water,” was designed to “send a clear message to Saint-Gobain that (residents) are tired of the constant contamination and health impacts to the town,” according to State Rep. Wendy Thomas of Merrimack, who collaborated on the protest with Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water’s Laurene Allen.

Saint-Gobain, at 701 Daniel Webster Highway, became the focus nearly two years ago of a public outcry that stemmed from the discovery of contaminants such as PFAS and PFOA in groundwater in a large area surrounding the plant.

Earlier this month, Saint-Gobain representatives rejected Town Council members’ allegations that the firm continues to release hazardous contaminants into the environment, despite concerns raised by residents, town officials and environmental regulators.

“We are in compliance with local, state and federal environmental regulations and we will remain open and continue business operations,” Saint-Gobain spokeswman Lia LoBello told The Telegraph in early October.

On Sunday, in conjunction with the protest, Dina Silver Pokedoff, another Saint-Gobain spokeswoman, reiterated the firm’s position that it plans to “remain open and continue business operations.”

She also pointed out that the firm “is in compliance with local, state and federal environmental regulations regarding PFAS.

“As one of the largest employers in Merrimack, we are pleased that the NHDES agrees that there is no basis to shut down our plant operations,” Pokedoff added, referring to the State Department of Environmental Services.

In an “Open Letter to the Community” that Saint-Gobain posted to its Merrimack-dedicated website, www.merrimackwater.com, officials call the controversy “a complex issue” about which “a lot of misinformation has been spread” regarding its operations.

The letter goes on to address “several critical subjects … we believe are important to the community and local stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, Thomas, who is one of the three state representatives from Merrimack known as the “Water Warrior Reps” for their involvement in the issue, said Sunday’s protest was inspired by a similar action that took place nearly a month ago at the Merrimack Station plant in Bow, which is one of the largest coal-fired power plants still operating in New England.

Thomas said that when she saw a Facebook post from someone “suggesting that something like (the Bow protest) be done in Merrimack, I replied that I agreed … and that I’d help organize such a protest.”

“People are absolutely sick and tired of (Saint-Gobain) continuing to contaminate our town,” Thomas added.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.