Energy & Environment

State expands testing for PFOA to Pownal

Former Warren Wire plant, Pownal

State environmental officials will test the former Warren Wire facility on Route 346i n Pownal for PFOA. Bennington Banner photo

Editor’s note: This story by Edward Damon first appeared in the Bennington Banner on March 15.

POWNAL — As state agencies work to address water contamination in North Bennington, officials are turning their attention to other locations that may be affected.

A vacant warehouse and former manufacturing facility on Route 346 in Pownal is one of those sites, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Alyssa Schuren. And investigators with the EPA will also probe the former Pownal Tannery site for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid.) Schuren said environmental investigators are speaking with citizens, including those who used to work in factories, to learn where PFOA may have been used.

“We have no reason to believe we’ll find PFOA [in Pownal],” Schuren told the Banner Monday. “But we’re doing this as an abundance of caution.”

The Route 346 property, originally the site of long-defunct Warren Wire and now a vacant warehouse owned by Mack Molding, lies about 1,000 feet from a public water source — the Pownal Fire District No. 2 serves about 400 households.

The EPA will test water and sediment at Warren Wire as soon as the current owner grants site access, Schuren said.

In Hoosick Falls, N.Y., residents were told not to drink or cook with their tap water after it was found to have elevated levels of PFOA, a man-made chemical used for decades to make Teflon. In North Bennington, nearly 200 private wells have been tested within 1.5 miles of the former ChemFab facility. Of the 34 results returned this weekend, 29 showed levels of PFOA ranging from 38 to 2,270 parts per trillion (ppt).

The substance’s status as an “emerging contaminant” and new science around its negative health effects means there’s no federal regulation for how much PFOA is allowed for short-term exposure. The EPA’s “advisory level” is 400 ppt, but the federal agency has encouraged New York residents with private wells to not consume their water if levels are above 100 ppt. Vermont’s limit of 20 ppt is one of the lowest in the country.

Schuren said her team has been working around the clock in North Bennington.

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“It’s been taking a lot of our resources as we’ve been really focused on the immediate response,” Schuren said. “But on a parallel track, we have folks taking a look at where PFOA may have been used around the state.”

Warren Wire operated at 1001 Route 346 starting in 1948. The company produced wire coated with Teflon. General Cable bought the building and 10-acre parcel in 1963. The company changed names to GK Technologies and sold the building to the current owner, Mack Molding, in 1988.

Mack Molding, which makes injection plastic molding, used the 123,000-square-foot building primarily as a warehouse for years before placing it up for sale in 2010. A listing on the real estate site loopnet.com states it is off the market as of Monday afternoon.

The tannery site near the Hoosic River was added to the federal Superfund program in 1999. The EPA completed a clean up of contamination from metals, semi-volatile organic compounds and dioxin in 2004 and continues to monitor water and sediment.

State environmental officials will test the former Warren Wire facility on Route 346in Pownal for PFOA, DEC Commissioner Alyssa Schuren said Monday. The man-made chemical has been found in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, New York, Merrimack, New Hampshire, and North Bennington.

Schuren said if PFOA is found at other sites around Vermont, the response in those communities would be similar to that in North Bennington. In that case, residents were provided bottled water and the state began testing wells, water sources and sediment. The municipal water systems were not affected.

The state will remain the lead investigator in Pownal, Schuren said, EPA’s Region 1 office in Boston will carry out the work on her agency’s behalf.

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