John Camelio, a North Bennington resident, has been waiting for months for cleanup to start at a shuttered factory in his neighborhood.
Located about 500 yards from Camelio’s house, the former facility was once famous for producing Teflon-coated fiberglass fabrics used on structures such as sports stadium domes. Now, local residents blame the factory for having polluted their water and bodies with the industrial chemical PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, which was used in making Teflon.
Camelio and his wife, both retired teachers, are among the beneficiaries in a class-action suit against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, a multinational company that last operated the facility in North Bennington and another in Bennington. Under a settlement agreement in the case, the couple received compensation because they own eligible property in what’s considered the zone of PFOA contamination.
Camelio said they’ll also be participating in a medical monitoring program set up through the settlement. The program aims to screen for certain diseases among residents who were exposed to PFOA, a variant of the PFAS group of chemicals that has been linked to health problems.
In settling the case, Saint-Gobain denied the accusations and any wrongdoing.
Though the 2016 lawsuit was finally concluded this spring, Saint-Gobain has work left to do in Bennington.
Under a separate settlement agreement with the state, finalized in 2019, Saint-Gobain is responsible for cleaning up designated buildings at their two former factories in the town of Bennington. The industrial sites, formerly owned by ChemFab, closed in 2002.
The work on the North Bennington facility was supposed to begin in 2020, but got derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, said Richard Spiese, project manager with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, who is overseeing the cleanup program.
“We were willing to be patient the last couple of years, but that patience is coming to a close,” he said in an interview. “It’s time to get the contractor replaced.”
Right now, Saint-Gobain told VTDigger, the company is preparing to hire a new contractor so the work could begin early next year.
“We expect to bid the contract for cleanup work this winter and anticipate activities to begin in early spring 2023, lasting approximately three months,” the company said in a statement on Friday.
According to Saint-Gobain’s “corrective action plan,” the cleanup would include removing insulation from the ceiling and walls, removing carpeting and ceiling tiles from the office area, as well as cleaning floors, structural supports, walls and ceilings. Building materials removed would then be replaced, such as insulation and paint.
“I suspect it'll be over 99% of the PFOA that's in the building material will be removed and then properly disposed,” Spiese said.
He noted there’s currently no standard for cleaning up a building with PFOA material, so the parties have agreed to take what he called a risk reduction approach.
The goal of the cleanup work, Spiese said, is twofold — to prevent people who will use the building from being exposed to relatively high levels of PFOA and to ensure the chemical contaminant isn’t released to the environment.
When asked where waste from the cleanup will be dumped, Saint-Gobain said it “will be disposed at a lined landfill that is approved by the state to handle materials of this type.”
The company said plans for cleaning up the other facility, on Bennington’s Northside Drive, are still being finalized.
Meanwhile, Camelio sees the former factory in his neighborhood each time he drives by 1030 Water Street. He said it’s a constant reminder of the difficulties local residents have had to live with since the chemical contamination was discovered in 2016.
“It’s upsetting,” he said. “There's a monstrosity of a building that has a lot of, just, bad bad vibes to it.”
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