44 N.H. firms may have used chemicals tied to pollution; 1 in Bow linked

  • State and local officials load boxes of free bottled water Monday April 11, 2016, in Litchfield, N.H. Residents were given the water after wells located near their homes were found to be contaminated. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Monitor staff
Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The state has listed 44 locations in New Hampshire where a category of compounds, which include two chemicals linked to drinking water pollution, may have been involved in manufacturing, although it is still determining how and when any compounds were used. No contamination has been alleged.

The one Concord-area site on the list from the Department of Environmental Services is PlasTech Machining and Fabrication in Bow, which makes a variety of plastic products, in large batches, small runs and as prototype development.

A woman who answered the phone said PlasTech does not use PFOA, the chemical associated with polluted wells in Merrimack and Litchfield, but declined to comment further or provide anyone to be interviewed by name. PlasTech’s website lists Teflon as one of many plastics that it works with; until 2012, the giant firm DuPont used PFOA to manufacture Teflon, and PFOA was sometimes present in the final product.

Smiths Tubular Systems in Laconia, a firm that has been assembling and manufacturing a variety of pipes and fittings for six decades, was also listed, apparently because of using Teflon products.

“We assemble tubes. We buy the tubes and assemble them here. The tubes are PTFE, (the chemical name for Teflon), which historically contained PFOAs, but that was phased out at the directive of DuPont. . . . If it wasn’t phased out, it was a hard stop. They literally rewrote their formula for Teflon to eliminate the PFOA aspects,” said Martin Hough, CTO for the firm.

Since then, Hough said, PFOA has not been part of any process at the company, which employs about 400 people at its Lexington Drive plant.

New Hampshire Ball Bearing’s plant in Laconia was also on the list. Company spokesman Hans Baker said the company received notice from the DES on Monday about the issue, which he said is more difficult to pin down than it seems because the query covers any perfluorinated compound or PFC, a category that includes many chemicals aside from PFOA.

“We are going to work with the DES to answer their questions . . . but you’re talking over 10,000 compounds. Our facilities people are going to be sifting through the archive of materials before we give details,” Baker said.

The notice gave companies 30 days to respond.

The Monitor was unable to get comments on deadline from another Laconia firm on the list, Amatex Corp., which makes fiberglass textiles for high-temperature applications.

Most of the firms on the list were in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, reflecting how manufacturing is concentrated in the state’s southern tier.

The list released Friday by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services as part of its ongoing investigation into perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, which has been found in drinking water in Merrimack and Litchfield. Concern about possible health effects has led to widespread use of bottled water, and discussion about Saint-Gobain paying to connect homes to town water supplies.

The list covers firms that are thought to have used any perfluorinated compounds or PFCs, a category that includes a host of different compounds used for a number of industrial applications. PFCs include not just PFOA but also PFOS, which is associated with firefighting foam and has been found in elevated levels in water supplies at the former Pease Air Force base.

“The list came from research done by (DES) staff as well as the hazardous waste program. We’re basically seeking information from the companies regarding current or past manufacturing process past that may have used (perfluorinated compounds),” said Jim Martin, spokesman for DES.

The list was released at the request of media outlets “to be transparent,” Martin said. It does not imply that any of the companies have caused or are related to any contamination, he said.

The chemical PFOA been used since the 1940s as a surfactant, to lower surface tension during a variety of manufacturing processes. Its discovery last year in New Hampshire wells is apparently related to the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant in Merrimack, where PFOA has been detected at levels as high as 1,600 parts per trillion.

The federal government’s recommended safe short-term exposure limit for PFOA is 400 parts per trillion, and it is still developing standards for lifetime exposure limits.

The discovery of PFOA, which is also called C8, and PFOS in drinking water is not limited to New Hampshire. Pollution from PFOA related to Teflon is an issue in many states, including Vermont, New York and Delaware, while PFOS related to firefighting foam has become an issue of concern throughout the country.

Part of the issue may be technical, in that it has only recently become possible to accurately and easily measure concentrations down to parts per trillion. That is 1,000 times more precise than parts per billion, and a million times more precise than parts per million.

“I don’t think we have done any investigations down to the parts per trillion,” Martin said.