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.
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.