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Vermont Looking For New Pownal Water Source Following PFOA Contamination

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin says the state is looking to identify a new water source in Pownal after lifting a Do Not Drink order put in place because of chemical contamination.Shumlin joined the state’s environmental conservation commissioner and area leaders at the Pownal Rescue Squad station Monday to mark the lifting of the order. The Democrat announced last week testing found all PFOA was being removed from the water and highlighted the accomplishment by drinking a glass of water. On July 12 a granular activated carbon filtration system was put into service to treat the water. The filters bind PFOA to carbon particles. The industrial chemical has been linked to ill health effects including cancer. In March PFOA was found at 26 and 27 parts per trillion in Pownal’s Fire District Number Two drinking water. The state health department has an advisory limit of 20 parts per trillion. Shumlin praised the community’s resiliency.

“This community came together and said ‘Let’s not get hysterical. Let’s get something done. Let’s figure out how we take a really bad situation and make it somewhat better,’” Shumlin said. “That’s why I’m so proud to be here.”

Since March, more than 400 water system users have resorted to bottled water for drinking. Craig O’Dell of the Pownal Fire Department says the rescue squad served as the site for people to pick it up.

“The first couple days, because of the panic of the PFOA, we were deluged with people coming in to get fresh water,” O’Dell said. “As the week progressed we went to a schedule so we were only open every other day and certain hours of the day. It made it easier for the community to come in and for the volunteers to be here.”

O’Dell says 14 pallets of bottled water were handed out the first day and night with deliveries every week since. Governor Shumlin applauded American Premier Underwriters, which owns the former Warren Wire facility where the state suspects the contamination likely originated. APU has paid for water sampling and bottled water while it works with the state to investigate the site and consider remediation options. Shumlin would not comment on any criminal charges against APU, saying that is the attorney general’s decision. The attorney general’s office did not return a call seeking comment. In the meantime, Shumlin says Pownal’s filtration system will run for four years before needing an upgrade.

“If we haven’t found a new source after four years, that filtration system will be rebuilt and we’ll stick with it,” Shumlin said. “We would like to find a permanent clean source.”

A number of other communities in the region are experiencing PFOA contamination. Shumlin says the federal government is not doing its job testing chemicals while operating under a toxic law that was last updated in the 1970s.

“There are 85,000 chemicals used every day by Americans,” Shumlin said. “Sixty thousand of them have never been tested before we let them out and we become the guinea pigs. Pownal, Bennington, North Bennington, Shaftsbury and our friends in New York state. We become the guinea pigs to these toxic chemical experimentations.”

Shumlin says blood tests of people in the Bennington area, where PFOA was found as high as 79 parts per trillion, have come back.

“We have those results,” Shumlin said. “They’ve been mailed to the individuals who were tested. They vary from fairly low levels to fairly high levels as you would imagine. We are working closely with the folks that have particularly high levels to try and answer their questions and help them out as much as we can.”

The highest blood test results showed PFOA levels at more than 1,000 micrograms per liter. The average American has about 2 micrograms per liter. According to the state health department, the average Bennington and North Bennington blood test showed PFOA levels at about 10 micrograms per liter. The state says there will be no additional blood testing in Pownal because the slightly elevated PFOA levels in the water cannot be identified against that average amount.

Vermont has tested 84 groundwater samples at the former Warren Wire facility. Fifty-four have PFOA in them with a range of 7 to 165 parts per trillion. Overall, the state has tested more than 480 private drinking wells. About half of them have PFOA levels about the advisory limit of 20 parts per trillion.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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