Environment

In North Bennington, PFOA found in 29 more wells

Peter Shumlin, North Bennington
Gov. Peter Shumlin talks to Ron Pembroke of Pembroke landscaping about PFOA contamination during a visit to North Bennington last month. Bennington Banner photo

Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in the Bennington Banner on March 14.

NORTH BENNINGTON — State officials reported on Saturday that 29 more wells tested positive for higher than acceptable levels of Perfluorooctanoic acid. In all, 34 wells were tested for the chemical known as PFOA.

The wells are located near the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington. The test results were received late Friday.

The results showed PFOA levels ranging from 38 to 2,270 parts per trillion (ppt), according to an update from Gov. Peter Shumlin on Saturday. The maximum level deemed acceptable in drinking water by the Vermont Department of Health is 20 ppt. So far, 185 wells have been tested in the 1.5 mile radius of the plant.

The chemical would likely have been emitted from a smokestack at the Chemfab plant, which made nonstick coatings and heat resistant materials. It would have been been deposited with water vapor near the factory, officials have said.

PFOA has been linked to thyroid diseases and kidney and testicular cancer.

On Saturday morning, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) went door to door to notify residents of test results as well as answered questions and coordinate the installation of water treatment systems. In addition, the Health Department is reaching out to residents by phone whose wells are contaminated with PFOA.

Residents are urged to get bottled water at the Village Variety Store at 9 Route 67 West and they’ll also be delivered to impacted homes. There are also two water stations that are safe to use in the parking lot across from the former Chemfab plant at the intersection of Water St. and Route 67a. At the same time, Point of Entry Treatment systems are being offered to those affected.

An information center will be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends at the Health Department offices at 324 Main St. to answer questions.

There will be a community meeting on March 16 at 6 p.m. at the Village School of North Bennington at 9 School St. to review results and answer questions.

Lakes, rivers and streams in North Bennington and Bennington are being sampled by DEC scientists, including the Walloomsac River, Paran Creek and Lake Paran as well as the Bennington College Campus Pond, Paran Creek onsite pond and Hamon Road Pond. Those results are expected to return in two to three weeks while the qualified laboratories are working at full capacity. Furthermore, results will determine the levels of contamination in fish with a partnership with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Five private wells in North Bennington previously tested positive for detectable levels of the carcinogenic chemical on Feb. 25. Three of the wells are at residences, one is at the municipal wastewater treatment plant, and another is at a landscaping business.

The state also tested the municipal water supply in North Bennington. The water has not been tainted by PFOA, according to state officials.

Vermont, New York and New Hampshire have all found PFOA contamination in water supplies near plants owned by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, a global company that manufactures Chemfab “engineered materials,” including heat-resistant products and nonstick coatings, such as Teflon.

Saint-Gobain operated a plant that manufactured Teflon and other materials in North Bennington until it was shut down in 2002. The plant was in operation for 30 years.

The state of New York has linked the contamination of the village water supply in Hoosick Falls to a manufacturing plant in town.

Low levels of the chemical have also been found in drinking water at a Saint-Gobain plant in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Officials from the company reported to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Conservation that water from four faucets at the plant are contaminated by low levels of PFOA.

PFOA is not regulated by the federal government, and is not detected through standard lab testing. In Vermont, officials have said they sent samples out of state and have spent thousands of dollars for each test.

Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Shumlin have asked the EPA to issue new PFOA guidelines for safe drinking water. In a letter sent on Thursday, the three governors urged the EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to review the best science on PFOA, “and provide uniform guidance to states that our health and environmental officials can use in assessing the safety of our drinking water.”

They also asked the EPA for help with drinking water testing and analysis in communities exposed to PFOA, and for full funding of federal money for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water Fund.

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  • Peter Chick

    How could this company possibly get a permit to release these chemicals?

    • edward letourneau

      It wasn’t regulated. And the fact is some think there is a link to cancer, but according to the Dept. of health, there is not more instances of cancer in the area. So we don’t know if its a cause or not. Going further, PFOA is in popcorn bags, pizza boxes, clothing, carpets, etc. It can’t be escaped.

      • edward letourneau

        It appears some people are afraid of hearing a truth!

    • Hilton Dier

      There are about 84,000 industrial chemicals in use in this country. Only a small fraction have actually been tested for direct toxicity, cancer-causing potential, or any kind of health effects.

      PFOA was one of those wonder chemicals that turned out to be not so wonderful, much like PCBs. As usual, law lags behind science and public protection lags behind profits. And, no doubt, the executives who made the decision to release the PFOA into the atmosphere will be safe inside their legal Teflon coating.

  • John Perry

    “…It would have been been deposited with water vapor near the factory….” Gee, I wonder what that stuff did when it came out of the smokestack and into people’s lungs?

  • rosemarie jackowski

    There is no focus on any wells outside the 1.5 miles radius, even though there are other Superfund sites in the area. Maybe some of the money used for administration of the VT Dept of Health could be used to test a few other private wells.

    • Ray Mullineaux

      The DEC focus on wells within 1.5 miles of the plant is to determine the pattern of contamination. Once this is seen, then that pattern will dictate further well sampling.

      Having lived for 17 of the 30 years of operation directly under the stacks, I am wondering
      what the impact is on my family’s health. We have Village water,so unlike my neighbor,
      David Barber, no water risk. David, who is interviewed in NYT today(http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/nyregion/vermont-town-is-latest-to-face-pfoa-tainted-water-scare.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0 )worked for 21 years
      at ChemFab, lives within the smoke plume, and drank well water, so has multiple exposures.
      Blood testing will only tell us a snapshot in our histories with PFOA but not predict our futures
      or explain our histories.

      The PFOA survives in the body a long time: it is early to determine
      that there aren’t any above background level cancer incidences. Above background level incidence of illness in part depends on the area you include. Once the distribution is known, then the epidemiology may show more. Clearly, you want to deal with the impacted area, not the whole village.The Village water system is clean and only a few miles from the site ( NB
      water system at: http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/PFOA.htm) so this plant’s impact is fairly
      localized if you exclude the as yet unknown downstream impacts on the rivers.

      I give Vermont and even St. Gobain pretty good marks to this point. Clearly, the Village water system will be extended to help many of these well owners. We in North Bennington can do nothing less, but we will need help from the State and from St.Gobain. There are still many questions
      to explore and answer sufficiently well enough to allow for the continued unfolding of a
      rational public health response and to begin to see the downstream cost to make this
      right.

      This “rational unfolding” of a response to make things right is what I hope for. I fully expect the tenor of conversations to change when costs become clearer, but there are
      many here committed to making this come round right.