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VT Reaches Deal With Saint-Gobain Over East Bennington PFOA Contamination

Facebook: Town of Bennington

The State of Vermont and Saint-Gobain have reached a tentative agreement to extend clean, municipal water to homes and businesses affected by PFOA contamination in Bennington. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports the deal would affect customers on the east side of town.

PFOA contamination in private wells in the southern Vermont community has been linked to the former Chemfab plant in the Village of North Bennington, today owned by Saint-Gobain.

Saint-Gobain previously reached an agreement with the State of Vermont over remediation work, but only for the western half of the Bennington community. There, PFOA-free municipal water was extended to homes and businesses.

Now, the same may be done for the eastern half.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd says that’s great news for the community.

“Overall, we will pick up approximately, I think 250 to 280 customers on the municipal system. It also, of course, once you extend municipal water, it brings fire protection to those areas as well,” said Hurd.

The State of Vermont and Saint-Gobain are awaiting a final design of the proposed water system before the agreement is finalized.

Again, Stuart Hurd.

“The beauty of the northeasterly quadrant is municipal water is already there in many places so these are relatively short extensions,” said Hurd

As with the western half of the community, there may be some outlying properties that cannot feasibly be connected. Other options could include the installation of permanent point-of-entry treatment systems on private wells, or the drilling of new wells with contaminant-free water.

The State of Vermont said in a statement that “the success Saint-Gobain’s engineering firm has had in achieving clean water through new wells is encouraging for impacted residents on both sides.”

Chuck Schwer, director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Waste Management and Prevention Division, said the state maintained that the chemical pollution on both sides of Bennington was linked to the Chemfab Plant.

“It was a lot of hard negotiations and good faith on both sides to really look at the data we had collected in the three-plus years of sampling,” said Schwer.

Schwer said the state’s own air deposition modeling and soil sampling may have had an impact on negotiations. 

“I believe that the air modeling that our experts and our air division did, I think was pretty compelling to say that that facility was the source and their experts and their first air modeling didn’t show it that way,” said Schwer.

Saint-Gobain issued a statement on the tentative agreement, saying it is “pleased to have reached an agreement in principle with the state of Vermont and the Agency of Natural Resources on Corrective Action Area 2. We have worked closely with the state over the last few years to achieve our shared goal in this effort: ensuring residents have access to potable drinking water.”

As the Federal Environmental Protection Agency has not set maximum contaminant levels for PFOA, PFOS, and other so-called emerging contaminants in drinking water, Vermont has set its own health advisory level at 20 parts per trillion. News broke Tuesday that the Trump administration doesn’t plan to set a drinking water limit for PFAS chemicals. Democratic members of Congress from New York pledged to fight the move.

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