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Jul 15, 2016 6:32 PM

Merrimack plastic company denies its role in contaminating nearby wells with PFOAs

MERRIMACK — A plastic manufacturing plant in Merrimack is denying several legal claims made against it regarding perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination in area wells.

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is denying almost every claim made against it in a class-action lawsuit against the company, according to court documents filed at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua. The suit was filed by a Litchfield resident whose well water was found to be contaminated with PFOA.

The suit is on behalf of all residents within a two-mile radius of the Saint-Gobain manufacturing facility at 701 Daniel Webster Highway in Merrimack. Excessive amounts of PFOAs were detected in wells in Merrimack, Litchfield and southern parts of Manchester earlier this year, and the suit alleges the plastics company is to blame.

Not only has the company denied the claims, but its request to move the case to the U.S. District Court in Concord was approved. The suit is seeking damages for trespass, nuisance, negligence and alleged injuries, including diminution of property value and loss of marketability.

In its response to the class-action suit, Saint-Gobain denies allegations the PFOAs contaminating area wells come from its Merrimack facility.

However, residents who live in the area are skeptical.

"I definitely think it comes from there," said Tracey Rutherford, who lives across the street from the plant. "I mean, the fact that there’s a plastics plant directly across the street, and all of a sudden the water is contaminated, I think that it definitely comes from Saint-Gobain."

Rutherford's home has a well, but her family has used town water for as long as they've lived there. She said when the stagnant water in the well was tested, the results showed it had PFOA contaminants as high as 1,600 parts per trillion.

As a mother, Rutherford said she was horrified to hear that number and will likely have her son participate in the voluntary blood tests now being conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

"If it's in the groundwater, even if we're not using the well, I'm sure we've somehow ingested or absorbed it," she said.

Rutherford's neighbors, the Zylas, have lived in their home for 30 years.

"Somebody polluted the water, and they’re saying they didn’t do it," Gary Zyla said Friday. "Well, where did it come from?"

The Zylas have been getting deliveries of bottled water for weeks now and exclusively use it for almost all their water needs, everything from cooking to brushing their teeth.

"We're afraid to use the regular well water for almost anything," Zyla said. "I'm using it for a shower, and that's about it. My wife even went to the laundromat the other day. She's afraid to even use it for the laundry."

Saint-Gobain has helped pay for the water distribution services, which Zyla says comes once a month. Still, he said it's a burden to only use the gallons.

"I'm sick of these jugs," he said, pointing to the cases he has piled in his garage. "It's too much, and what am I going to do in the winter? I don't have room in my house to put all these cases of water. They're going to freeze out here in the shed."

Zyla said engineers have visited his property to evaluate ways to connect his home to the town water system. He also said he's less than thrilled at the thought of having a water bill for the first time in decades, but doesn't have much of a choice.

Like his neighbors, he isn't optimistic the contamination situation will be resolved in the near future, especially with the pending lawsuit.

"It's not going to be done in a week or a month or a year," Zyla added. "This is going to take forever."

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