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Vermont Officials Make Introductions, Provide PFOA Update In Bennington

Lucas Willard

Vermont officials traveled to Bennington College Thursday night to give residents an update on the effort to bring clean drinking water to people living with contaminated wells. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports.

It’s been about a year since Bennington-area residents were alerted that they, like nearby Hoosick Falls, New York, had drinking water contaminated with the chemical PFOA.

The odorless, tasteless chemical has been traced to the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington, now owned by company Saint-Gobain.

A year later, Vermont has a new governor and a new Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner.

On her first public visit to the area, new Commissioner Emily Boedecker said the Scott administration and all agencies have made the contamination issue their highest priority.

“So although there has been a transition of leadership in Montpelier, please know that you are first and foremost in our thoughts,” said Boedecker.

More than 250 point-of-entry treatment systems have been installed on private wells over the last year, though that’s not a final fix.

The state has been pursuing the solution of bringing PFOA-free municipal water to homes with contaminated wells and is pushing Saint-Gobain to pay for the work. Preliminary work is ongoing. Only a handful of homes and businesses have been connected so far.

Boedecker announced that Saint-Gobain has agreed to pay for a study to extend four water lines west of the railroad tracks. The state estimates that will cost $800,000.

“So one of the things I want to make sure that we are clear about is that we’re moving forward as swiftly as we can with this solution, that Saint-Gobain has stood up the table and put forward the monies to fund this design, and in this next phase in the next two or three months we’re going getting to be getting to the final design,” said Boedecker.

Boedecker added the line extensions may not be the right solution for everybody.

Though Saint-Gobain has agreed to fund a study, negotiations are not over, said Peter Walke, Deputy Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

“As much as I would like to be able to be here and say we have a settlement to tell you about, we are not there yet,” said Walke.

Walke said there are two pieces of disagreement. First is whether or not the Bennington landfill is a source of PFOA. The other is the extent of PFOA travelling through the air.

“We disagree. We have information that we’re confident in that we believe that the air deposition from their plants, from the former Chemfab plant, is the cause of PFOA contamination, but it’s important to know that there is a difference. And we’re not able to reach an agreement with a company that cannot agree on those basic premises,” said Walke.

What is agreed on is that more information is needed. Walke said Saint-Gobain is willing to concur that emissions from its facilities is the cause of contamination west of the railroad tracks that cross over Rice Lane.

The state is now pursuing a settlement that designates a western and eastern portion of the region.

Testing and research will continue.

On June 6th, a final PFOA blood testing clinic will be held from 8 to 6 p.m. at the Department of Health’s facility on Main Street in Bennington. The deadline to register is May 30th

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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