CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A company that owns plants in three states where elevated levels of a chemical used to make Teflon coatings were found said Friday that its priority now is providing safe drinking water to residents and that placing blame will come later.
Tom Kinisky, the CEO of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, told The Associated Press that investigations are ongoing into how the chemical known as PFOA - used in the manufacturing of its building materials - found its way into private wells near its facility in Merrimack, New Hampshire. It also has been found in wells near a former plant in North Bennington, Vermont, as well as in the water supply for Hoosick Falls, New York, where the company has two plants.
"We've been just trying to deal with the community frankly without dealing with responsibility or sources of the contamination. That hasn't been our focus," he said. "Let's make this personal. These are residents. These are people. Some of them are employees. They find out there that there is a contaminant in their water. They are nervous. They are scared. Our number one priority is to relieve that and that is what we have been doing."
In New Hampshire, the state Environmental Services Department (DES) began conducting its own testing last month after PFOA was found in the Hoosick Falls water supply, and in some private wells in North Bennington, Vermont.
In a letter to the company, New Hampshire officials earlier this week said Saint-Gobain was "potentially responsible" for the PFOA contamination that has been found in 23 Litchfield wells and three in Merrimack at levels at or above 100 parts per trillion. All the wells are within a mile radius of the plant - where the company found levels of PFOA around 30 parts per trillion in its tap water.
As a precaution, the state says it is providing 400 properties in Merrimack and Litchfield with drinking water and won't rule out expanding the area as test results come back.
Kinisky said it was possible that the New Hampshire plant - which it purchased in 2000 from ChemFab and continues to operate - was the source of contamination. But he also said the issue "was complicated" by such things as the unique "hydrogeological formations around the plant" air currents and, most importantly, that Teflon coatings were used in many products in recent decades.
"There have been many uses and it's highly persistent in the environment. That makes it complicated in order to identify all the sources and potential sources," he said. "We are working on that with the state and we are giving the New Hampshire DES as much information as they want. We are testing. We are looking to be part of the investigation going forward."
It has made a similar argument regarding its role in the contamination from its now-shuddered Vermont plant and New York facilities. In New York, Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International were sued in February after regulators identified them as potentially responsible for chemical contamination in Hoosick Falls' water.
The resistance from the company to accept blame as it awaits more test results has not gone down well with residents in impacted communities like Litchfield. At a public meeting Thursday, residents questioned why the company - which has insisted the state should take the lead - had not sent a representative.
"We were happy, as a town, that DES had sent a letter Saint Gobain asking them to take ownership, responsibly for this and we will wait and see what they come up," Rep. Frank Byron (R-Litchfield), who is also a selectman in the town, said after the hearing.
"I think this will impact our community significantly," he continued. "If we are going to start running pipelines, we are going to have rip up roads ... The citizens will have a cost if they start installing filtration systems and everything else. So, we need to have Saint Gobain focus on what they are going to do to fix this and to make it right with the citizens."