- by theguardian
- 15 Aug 2022
A French industrial fabric producer that poisoned drinking water supplies with PFAS "forever chemicals" across 65 sq miles (168 sq km) of southern New Hampshire misled regulators about the amount of toxic substance it used, a group of state lawmakers and public health advocates charge.
The company, Saint Gobain, now admits it used far more PFAS than regulators previously knew, and officials fear thousands more residents outside the contamination zone's boundaries may be drinking tainted water in a region plagued by cancer clusters and other health problems thought to stem from PFAS pollution.
Saint Gobain in 2018 agreed to provide clean drinking water in the 65-sq-mile area as part of a consent agreement with New Hampshire regulators, and damning evidence suggesting it used more PFAS than previously admitted surfaced in a trove of documents released in a separate class-action lawsuit.
"People are sick, there are really high cancer rates and people literally have died, so when you see what's happening and the company acts like this - it's really upsetting," said Mindi Messmer, a former state representative who analyzed the documents and sent them to the New Hampshire attorney general and state regulators.
Saint Gobain has denied wrongdoing. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 12,000 chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products resist water, stains and heat. The highly toxic compounds don't naturally break down, and are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, kidney problems, decreased immunity, birth defects and other serious health problems. They have been called "forever chemicals" due to their longevity in the environment.
Saint Gobain Performance Plastics' Merrimack, New Hampshire, plant had for decades treated its products with PFOA, one type of PFAS, to make them stronger. The company released PFOA from its smokestacks and the chemicals, once on the ground, moved through the soil and into aquifers. Hundreds of residential and municipal wells pull from the groundwater.
As the company and New Hampshire department of environmental services (DES) negotiated the 2018 consent agreement, company officials repeatedly said they didn't use pure PFOA, or didn't have a record of using it, but instead used a diluted PFOA mixture of which the toxic chemical only comprised about 2%.
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