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Bill May Give Vermont Leverage As It Negotiates On Behalf Of Bennington-Area Residents

Lucas Willard
The former Chemfab plant in North Bennington, owned by company Saint-Gobain

Vermont Governor Phil Scott recently signed legislation aimed at holding polluters accountable for contaminating water supplies with the chemical PFOA. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports the bill may give the state a significant amount of leverage as it negotiates on behalf of people in the Bennington area.

Bennington and North Bennington residents were informed last year that many private wells were tainted with PFOA. The same odorless, tasteless chemical linked to ill health effects including cancer has been found in nearby Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, New York.

The chemical was traced to the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington, owned today by Saint-Gobain.

While the company has cooperated by agreeing to install point-of-entry treatment systems on contaminated wells, local and state officials are seeking a permanent fix of extending clean, municipal water lines to homes with tainted water.

Republican Governor Phil Scott held a bill signing ceremony on June 2nd for a piece of legislation that would require any polluter found to have distributed PFOA though air, water, or groundwater to be liable for finding a clean water source.  

This week Scott told WAMC that the bill gives negotiators an edge as it negotiates with Saint-Gobain.  

“It gives us a tremendous amount of leverage,” said Scott. “And I believe that they’re still negotiating. It’s ongoing. We have our Agency of Natural Resources, which is negotiating almost on a daily basis with Saint-Gobain. And trying to get through a few more details, but again, I think it looks good and have that piece of legislation gives us a tremendous amount of leverage in terms of settlement.”

The bill was authored by Democratic Senators Brian Campion and Dick Sears, both of Bennington.

Campion, who serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, says the bill was written with communities across the state in mind.

“It also is aimed to help other communities and other individuals, other Vermonters throughout the state,” said Campion.

Campion estimates PFOA has been found in about a dozen towns in Vermont, though not all in drinking water.

He said the Senate rejected changes to the bill made in the House that would include language tying the bill to Burlington as well.

“And the House did attach something for the City of Burlington to this. We ended up striking that and sending it back to them. We really wanted this to be a clean bill, just dealing with PFOA and contamination on its own,” said Campion.

Saint-Gobain issued a statement following the bill signing saying that prior to its passage the company had agreed to fund engineering studies on the feasibility of extending municipal water lines in Bennington and North Bennington.

The company said, "We are in ongoing conversations with the State as we work toward achieving our shared goal: ensuring residents of Bennington and North Bennington have access to clean drinking water.”

Meanwhile, the New York State Department of Health has released the results of a cancer study for the Rensselaer County Village of Hoosick Falls.

The results do not show a “statistically significant” rate of cancers commonly associated with PFOA, but critics have taken issue with the methodology, saying it doesn’t take into account other associated health effects or incidents of cancer linked to people who have moved out of Hoosick Falls.

Brad Hutton, the Deputy Director of the Department of Health’s Office of Public Health, said the report will be updated in the future. 

“We’re going to continue to review cancer incidents data for the Village of Hoosick Falls for the future years. And we are making a commitment that we will report on those findings every three to five years and update our report, especially if we see any change in the cancer patterns in the community.”

DOH staff will be at the Hoosick Falls Armory each day until Tuesday, June 13th to discuss the findings and answer questions.


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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