By ANI FREEDMAN, InDepthNH.org
MERRIMACK – On Wednesday morning, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics announced the closure of its Merrimack facility following steady criticism and outcries against PFAS pollution from the plant in southern New Hampshire.
Nancy Murphy and Wendy Thomas, both Democratic state representatives and local residents, were quick to organize an event at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday evening outside of the Saint-Gobain facility in collaboration with Laurene Allen, co-founder of Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water.
Ten people stood opposite Saint-Gobain’s facility on Daniel Webster Highway for an hour, smiling and waving signs with various messages. Dozens of drivers honked their horns in support and gave thumbs-up to the people saying goodbye to Saint-Gobain’s operations in Merrimack.
Rep. Michael Pedersen, D-Nashua, proudly held a sign that had arrows drawn from “PFAS” to the word “Sickness.” Pederson’s brother was diagnosed with kidney cancer at age 50 after living in Merrimack for most of his life.
Nancy Murphy clarified that what they were celebrating was the end of the pollution from Saint-Gobain, not the loss of jobs for 164 people. “I feel bad for the people losing their jobs, who came to work today not knowing,” Murphy said. “It’s just compounding all of the negative impacts this company is having.”
Saint-Gobain included in their statement today that workers will be aided with alternative positions, relocation options, and support packages.
For Representatives Murphy and Thomas, as well as Merrimack residents, it has been an ongoing struggle for seven years. “We have been relentless,” Murphy said.
Laurene Allen held a sign with drawings of smokestacks labeled with different PFAS chemicals that read, “STOP THE SOURCE.” When she heard the news of the facility closing, she said it was “unexpected, but it didn’t totally surprise me.”
Saint-Gobain’s plant closing won’t put an end to Allen’s advocacy work. “There’s always more to do,” Allen said. “We need to ensure this site is properly cleaned up.”
Allen, Murphy, and Thomas all emphasized the need to make sure Saint-Gobain is continued to be held accountable and lives up to the consent decree they signed in 2018 with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. “It’s about the acknowledgment of harm and keeping people safe,” Allen said.
Even as Saint-Gobain carries out their plans to close, which they said will not be fully realized until 2024, Allen asserted that the people of Merrimack will still be feeling the impacts of PFAS pollution long after they have left. “Tomorrow they still get up and have the same challenges,” she said.
Allen was referring to the Merrimack residents she knows dealing with health impacts from PFAS, such as kidney cancer, testicular cancer, and autoimmune diseases, among others listed by the EPA.
For now, Wendy Thomas is celebrating. “I feel like we won,” she said. “We won one tiny piece, but we won.”