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New England News

Vermont DEC To Cover PFOA-Related Costs Amid Stalled Negotiations

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Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
Vermont DEC Commissioner Alyssa Schuren speaks at Bennington College

Story updated 9/29/2016:

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation says it is determined to provide clean drinking water to Bennington-area residents with contaminated wells, despite a slowed negotiation process with the company linked to the contamination.

It was another packed auditorium at Bennington College, where officials with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health provided an update on the progress to eliminate the chemical PFOA from water supplies.

The tasteless, odorless carcinogen was used for years at the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington, now owned by company Saint-Gobain.

State officials said they’ve identified the extent of the contamination area surrounded by the New York border to the west and Green Mountains to the east.

Testing of private wells has continued. 266 wells, about half of those tested, have shown PFOA levels above Vermont’s 20 parts per trillion health advisory level. Since the contamination was discovered earlier this year, Saint-Gobain has paid for the 244 water filtration systems installed on private wells.

But the filtration systems aren’t a permanent fix. Officials are hoping to connect the properties with contaminated wells to Bennington’s public water system, which is PFOA-free.

DEC Commissioner Alyssa Schuren said as negotiations with the company linked to the contamination have stalled, the state is taking steps to ensure an extension of the municipal lines will begin next spring.

First up, a final design phase of the municipal line extensions will begin on Vermont’s dime.

“I’m here to announce the state has decided to pay for that because Saint-Gobain has not committed to that yet,” said Schuren.

DEC will seek reimbursement. The final design phase could cost upwards of $2 million. The municipal line extensions could cost $35 million.

Schuren says the agency is pursuing legislation to ensure the responsible party is on the hook for all remediation costs.

“So it’s just a little bit of an insurance policy. Hopefully Saint-Gobain will pay. Negotiations, the settlement talks have resumed, which was fortunate. And maybe we’ll get to a deal, but if not we want to have a couple pieces in place,” said Schuren.

Speaking at the podium, Bennington County State Senators Dick Sears and Brian Campion introduced such a bill.

“What this bill will do is it will mandate that the person who has released PFOA to the environmenet shall be liable for the expense of extending the water supply of a public community water system to a property with a well contaminated with PFOA, or likely to be contaminated with PFOA,” said Campion.

The Senators say the draft legislation will be introduced at the beginning of the next session in January.

Saint-Gobain has maintained it would cooperate “with all local, state and federal officials as they investigate and manage this issue.”

Meanwhile, Vermont state officials will continue blood-testing residents on November 14th and 15that the Department of Health facility on Main Street in Bennington. Some residents have shown blood concentrations upwards of 1,000 micrograms per liter. 

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