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Draft Report On Bennington Contamination Under Review

Lucas Willard
Vermont environmental officials speak to an audience at the Old First Church Barn in Bennington

Vermont environmental officials are reviewing a draft report submitted by company Saint-Gobain into soil and groundwater pollution found in Bennington. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard attended a meeting Tuesday night where officials provided details on next steps.

Saint-Gobain and the facilities it owns in Bennington and North Bennington have been linked to the presence of PFOA in private wellsaround the Southern Vermont community.

Almost two years since the chemical was first detected, the company is now under settlement agreement with the state to extend municipal drinking water to homes with contaminated wells. In December, the first home was hooked up.

Bennington Town Manager Stu Hurd said the work has been paused for the winter, but progress has been made.

“I’d say the water mains themselves have been probably extended to 40 or 50 percent of the area. Not all of those people have been connected, though. Because there’s…first you do the main and then you do the connections into the home,” said Hurd. “And they’ve run into some difficulty with being able to get from the street into the home because of the location of the well, and the entrance of the house, those kinds of things.”

But the water-line extensions are for now only being completed in half of the Bennington area being investigated: the area west of the railroad tracks along Route 7A.

Recently, Saint-Gobain released a draft report on its findings related to its investigation into the east side of Bennington, dubbed Area 2.

Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Hazardous Site Manager John Schmeltzer said Tuesday night that the agency is reviewing the lengthy report.

“It’s a big report, it’s over 5,000 pages. We’ve also had our consultant that’s helping us review this as well and we’re going to do a deep-dive into evaluating the report and we hope to have comments in the next six to eight weeks,” said Schmeltzer.

Saint-Gobain spokeswoman Dina Silver Pokedoff sent WAMC a statement that reads in part:

“PFAS compounds were regularly used by many industries and in many consumer products, and groundwater investigation activities within Area 2 are still ongoing. A revised draft report will be issued next month, per the discussion between the State of Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, and will include more information regarding the groundwater conditions for Area 2.”

PFAS compounds, like PFOA and PFOS, for example, are used in manufacturing insulating materials and firefighting foam. PFOA was first linked to the former Chemfab facility in North Bennington, now owned by Saint-Gobain, and Vermont officials are also investigating other facilities in town.

Vermont DEC environmental analyst Richard Spies says the state disagrees with the engineering report’s conclusion that concentrations of PFAS chemicals in Area 2 are not indicative of historical impacts from two Chemfab facilities.

“When we ran our models, very similar models but using slightly different assumptions, there were larger masses of the same chemicals of PFOA being deposited further afield from plant, including all the way up to the edge of where we modeled, which is the edge of the Green Mountains,” said Spies. “So the main difference is in the mass, the amount of PFOA that’s being deposited. And the more that’s in the ground, the more gets in the groundwater, and the higher concentrations that’s in the wells.”

Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources believes PFOA traveled through the air from emissions from facilities on Water Street and Northside Drive into Area 2.

As the investigations continue, a final report by Saint-Gobain is due March 15th.

If the state and Saint-Gobain are able to reach an agreement, then the company would be given 90 days to come up with a plan to address PFOA contamination.

If they don’t agree, state officials have said they will “use all authority provided by Vermont law” to find a long-term solution.


Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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