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Saint-Gobain flustered after appeal is denied

By ADAM URQUHART | Mar 4, 2020

MERRIMACK – A round of applause echoed from those in attendance at last week’s Merrimack Town Council meeting following the rejection of four conditions Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics requested in their petition to appeal the town’s industrial user permit No. 20.

On Thursday, members of the town council rejected all four of the corporation’s requested revisions. The town’s Department of Public Works Wastewater Division (DPW) issued the Industrial User Discharge Permit on Jan. 6 to the SGPP facility on Daniel Webster Highway.

“We are disappointed with the Merrimack Town Council’s decision to deny our wastewater discharge permit appeal, and we are currently considering next steps,” Director of Communications with Saint-Gobain Dina Silver Pokedoff stated via email.

The permit imposes a non-detect discharge level of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, among other conditions, which the SGPP claims to be unlawful in their appeal. Attorney Gregory Smith of McLane Middleton submitted the appeal to the town on Feb. 5, which cites reasons why these alternate conditions were raised. Silver Pokedoff also stated that in 2018, the corporation voluntarily began work to install a pretreatment system, which is currently removing PFAS from the plant’s wastewater.

“The treatment goal for every batch of wastewater is to achieve non-detect for PFAS,” she states.

“Through the appeal, we are asking the town to modify the conditions of our permit to be consistent with other permits issued as part of the town’s industrial wastewater permitting program. As far as we are aware, there are no other permits issued by the Town of Merrimack that have the same restrictions that were included in our permit; there is no legal basis for the limits imposed. We believe it will be mutually beneficial for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and the Merrimack Department of Public Works (DPW) to engage in meaningful dialogue so we can reach a mutually acceptable resolution of the issues included in this appeal.”

However, SGPP was not present for their appeal last week, sending a letter that afternoon to make officials aware they would not be in attendance. In that letter SGPP also asked if the town could table this matter and give them another 60 days to allow time for discussion with the town’s wastewater treatment officials. However, the town’s ordinances require a response within 30 days. Otherwise, the appeal is automatically denied.

“It was not for illness or for any of the kind of reasons why a person might think that you would not attend your own appeal,” Town Manager Eileen Cabanel said. “They simply didn’t feel that they needed to be here.”

Regardless of their absence, Assistant Public Works Director for the town’s wastewater treatment division, Sarita Croce, delivered a presentation providing background and discussed wastewater discharge from SGPP. After SGPP installed its treatment system and the system was online, town officials did some of their own sampling, and those results show not all samples are nondetected. Those samples at SGPP wastewater treatment are measured in parts per trillion and show Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) at 25.4 ppt; Pentafluorobenzoic acid (PFBA) at 22 ppt; perfluoropentanoic acid (PFPeA) at 7.27 ppt and perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) at 14.6 ppt.

Additional sampling results gathered by town officials show even higher levels of these chemicals at the manhole at the end of SGPP’s sewer pipe. These samples were collected at manhole eight in October, and show PFOA at 448 ppt; PFBA at 228 ppt; PFPeA at 1,360 ppt; and PFHxA at 2,340 ppt. When combing these results with those found for other chemicals, the total number in ppt for that one line shows over 5,000 ppt of chemicals at this sampling site.

“We actually met with Saint-Gobain after we collected those samples,” Croce said. “We shared all of the analyses with them and we discussed everything in quite a bit of detail and they didn’t have a reason for why the concentrations in manhole eight were so high.”

In the appeal, it notes that SGPP is permitted to discharge a maximum of 2,000 gallons per day of process wastewater to the wastewater treatment facility (WWTF), although the plant averages approximately 553 gallons per day. This discharge may contain low levels of PFAS, although the plant also discharges sanitary wastewater to the WWTF as well.

The appeal argues that the WWTF has a facility design flow of 5 million gallons per day, with an average monthly discharge to the Merrimack River from the facility at at approximately 2.2 million gallons per day, with a maximum of 3.45 million gallons per day and minimum of 1.73 million gallons per day.

According to the appeal signed by Smith, “Based alone on these numbers, the Plant’s discharge of wastewater is factually and legally insignificant and its discharge of PFAS in process wastewater, if any, cannot be detected at the WWTF or in the Merrimack River. In addition, SGPP’s discharge of process wastewater is already significantly lower than concentrations of PFAS in the water supply provided by the Town.”

The appeal further states, “As such, imposing a non-detection level for PFAS on a trivial amount of wastewater, as compared to the volume of waste water that the Town receives and treats every day at the WWTF is entirely unsupported by the facts, unreasonable as a matter of law and the Town is without any legal basis to do so under any authority the Town may have relative to its industrial discharge permitting program.”

On Tuesday, Town Council Chairman Tom Koenig said it is very frustrating that SGPP cannot provide a definitive answer as to how this clean up will happen and when. He and others would like them to get PFAS out of their system and clean up their site. Koenig also said at a public meeting years ago now SGPP said they are not using these chemicals anymore, yet they are still in the system.

“We have been told that Saint-Gobain has not been using PFOA since 2014,” Cabanel said during Thursday’s meeting. “Why is it still turning up in their wastewater?”

“Or even better, why are they fighting over it,” replied Vice Chair Bill Boyd. “If there’s no PFOA why are we here?”

Koenig said those are great questions officials have been trying to figure out for four years. Koenig also said the volume of PFOA that SGPP is using is dramatically reduced – although that does not change the fact that they are still contaminating with numbers that are above the Environmental Protection Agency expected limits. He also noted that there is still contamination in the ground around SGPP and in the town’s well water, which exceeds some of the limits.

“We are committed to being excellent stewards in the communities in which our people live and work, and hope to partner with the Town of Merrimack and DPW to resolve this matter,” Silver Pokedoff states.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.

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