‘They all knew’: textile company misled regulators about use of toxic PFAS, documents show

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A French concern cloth shaper that poisoned drinking h2o supplies with PFAS “forever chemicals” crossed 65 sq miles (168 sq km) of confederate New Hampshire misled regulators astir the magnitude of toxic substance it used, a radical of authorities lawmakers and nationalist wellness advocates charge.

The company, Saint Gobain, present admits it utilized acold much PFAS than regulators antecedently knew, and officials fearfulness thousands much residents extracurricular the contamination zone’s boundaries whitethorn beryllium drinking tainted h2o successful a portion plagued by crab clusters and different wellness problems thought to stem from PFAS pollution.

Saint Gobain successful 2018 agreed to supply cleanable drinking h2o successful the 65-sq-mile country arsenic portion of a consent statement with New Hampshire regulators, and damning grounds suggesting it utilized much PFAS than antecedently admitted surfaced successful a trove of documents released successful a abstracted class-action lawsuit.

“People are sick, determination are truly precocious crab rates and radical virtually person died, truthful erstwhile you spot what’s happening and the institution acts similar this – it’s truly upsetting,” said Mindi Messner, a authorities typical who analyzed the documents and sent them to the New Hampshire lawyer wide and authorities regulators.

Saint Gobain has denied wrongdoing. PFAS, oregon per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a people of astir 12,000 chemicals utilized crossed dozens of industries to marque products defy water, stains and heat. The highly toxic compounds don’t people interruption down, and are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, kidney problems, decreased immunity, commencement defects and different superior wellness problems. They person been called “forever chemicals” owed to their longevity successful the environment.

Saint Gobain Performance Plastics’ Merrimack, New Hampshire, works had for decades treated its products with PFOA, 1 benignant of PFAS, to marque them stronger. The institution released PFOA from its smokestacks and the chemicals, erstwhile connected the ground, moved done the ungraded and into aquifers. Hundreds of residential and municipal wells propulsion from the groundwater.

As the institution and New Hampshire section of biology services (DES) negotiated the 2018 consent agreement, institution officials repeatedly said they didn’t usage axenic PFOA, oregon didn’t person a grounds of utilizing it, but alternatively utilized a diluted PFOA substance of which the toxic chemic lone comprised astir 2%.

In a 2016 letter to authorities regulators, Saint Gobain wrote that it “never utilized [pure PFOA] arsenic a earthy worldly astatine immoderate constituent successful time” successful Merrimack, and successful 2014 told the EPA it “is not and ne'er has been a … idiosyncratic of PFOA per se anyplace successful the United States.”

The diluted PFOA wouldn’t dispersed arsenic wide arsenic axenic PFOA, and the modeling that determined the boundaries wrong which Saint Gobain would beryllium liable for providing cleanable drinking h2o supplies and remediating contamination was developed with the diluted solution arsenic an input.

But the documents released arsenic portion of the suit amusement Saint Gobain knew it utilized axenic PFOA years earlier the consent decree.

Among the grounds are 2003 emails betwixt institution employees explicitly stating the Merrimack installation treated its cloth with axenic PFOA. Meanwhile, a erstwhile Saint Gobain lawyer who is present whistleblowing testified that income records from 3M, which sold PFOA to Saint Gobain, amusement the institution bought “hundreds if not thousands” of pounds of axenic PFOA. The 3M income records are nether seal successful the class-action suit.

And a salesman for DuPont, which besides sold PFAS products to Saint Gobain, past twelvemonth testified that helium had “learned that they were utilizing [pure PFOA] … and adding it to our products”.

The modeling utilized to make the archetypal contamination zone’s boundaries is “fundamentally flawed” due to the fact that it did not relationship for the axenic PFOA, an technologist hired by Saint Gobain testified successful February.

Saint Gobain nary longer denies that it utilized axenic PFOA; however, successful a connection to the Guardian, the institution wrote it “vehemently denies immoderate allegation it withheld data, oregon misled, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services”. The accusation was “not new” due to the fact that it was successful 90,000 documents it gave the DES since 2016, the institution wrote.

Messmer said she’s skeptical of that explanation: “If you propulsion 90,000 papers astatine someone, is that truly notifying them?”

In effect to a follow-up question astir wherefore it developed the consent decree modeling assuming diluted PFOA alternatively of axenic PFOA, the institution said the benignant of PFOA was lone “one origin considered successful mounting the boundaries”.

In their July missive to the lawyer general’s bureau and DES, Messmer and different lawmakers asked for an probe and to grow the boundaries of the contamination zone. The authorities has “sound ineligible ground to clasp Saint Gobain afloat accountable for their pollution, including beyond the existent [boundary]”, the missive reads. The lawyer general’s bureau told the Guardian it is reviewing the documents portion the DES did not instantly respond to a petition for comment.

Some are besides frustrated with the DES. Documents amusement it knew it didn’t person Saint Gobain’s implicit PFAS acquisition records from earlier 2004, but inactive entered into the consent agreement.

“The regulatory bureau is broken, and I’m truly aggravated with the authorities departments that are expected to beryllium determination to support the situation and residents,” said Laurene Allen, a Merrimack nonmigratory and cleanable h2o activist. “Think of the harm that could person been prevented.”

The documents uncover a institution enforcement stating successful 2006 that Saint Gobain “ought to downplay the imaginable wellness risks” of PFOA comparative to different PFAS, and reason determination are “no proven” wellness risks. But a 1995 institution memo shows absorption had issued a decree to halt utilizing PFOA “because of its toxicity and agelong half-life”.

The institution had besides successful 2006 conducted humor tests for PFOA connected its employees but the results stay nether seal, and the plant’s erstwhile proprietor successful 1980 investigated wherefore its antheral employees were experiencing impotence and “polymer fever”.

“They each knew,” Messmer said.

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