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$34M settlement reached with Saint-Gobain over PFAS contamination in Bennington

Lucas Willard
The former Chemfab plant in North Bennington (file photo)

Lawyers representing Bennington, Vermont residents have announced a settlement with Saint-Gobain over PFAS contamination.

In a class action settlement agreement announced Thursday, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics has agreed to pay $34 million to Bennington-area residents affected by pollution that has been linked to the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington, owned by Saint-Gobain.

Jim Sullivan, a local resident whose well was contaminated, is also serving as a spokesman for plaintiffs in the case.

“Certainly it’s been a long haul and a struggle, but I think everybody is pleased – I certainly am – of that outcome and that we finally got resolution,” said Sullivan.

State agencies confirmed the presence of PFAS in private wells in 2016.

The settlement includes $6 million to support a 15-year medical monitoring effort. PFAS exposure has been linked to several ill-health effects including some forms of cancer.

David Silver is a Bennington resident and part of a team of lawyers who worked on the case. Like Sullivan, Silver is pleased by the settlement’s inclusion of medical monitoring.

“One of the most important things for me and I think for our whole team was to try to get the medical monitoring in place. And what we believe is that this was really a landmark case for medical monitoring. It had never been done before in Vermont, very few times in the whole country, and we’re very proud and happy that that’s going to be in place for the members of the community. It’s probably the most important part of the whole settlement,” said Silver.

A statement from Saint-Gobain issued to WAMC says the company is “pleased” to reach a settlement after two years of talks:

Since we first learned about the presence of PFAS in Bennington, Saint-Gobain made it clear we would take a leadership position on the issue, even though our Bennington plant has not been in operation since 2002. We believe these settlements and the extensive remediation work already completed are indicative of that commitment. 

The contamination affected private wells in the Bennington area. As part of an agreement with the State of Vermont, Saint-Gobain funded the extension of municipal water lines in Bennington and North Bennington. Other homes have had point-of-entry filtration systems installed on their wells.

On Monday, Governor Phil Scott will join local officials to celebrate the completion of line extensions to 445 out of 482 eligible residences. 21 miles of water mains and 15 miles of service lines were added in the area identified for corrective action.

Bennington Town Manager Stu Hurd welcomed the news of the class action settlement:

“Saint-Gobain was relatively quick to the table when it came to expanding the municipal water systems that were available here. But this has dragged on for some time. So I’m pretty sure that the folks involved have now, finally, been able to breathe a sigh of relief. And it appears, although the details are not available to us yet, that it addresses their concerns specifically related to the medical monitoring and property compensation,” said Hurd.

The settlement agreement and compensation model must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for Vermont.

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.