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Judge approves $34M settlement over PFOA contamination in Bennington, VT

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

A federal judge has given final approval to a $34 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit against a plastics company over toxic chemical contamination of soil and groundwater in a southern Vermont community.

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation will pay $26.2 million into a fund to compensate Bennington area property owners for alleged damages and $6 million for a program to monitor the health of those exposed to perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, under the settlement approved Monday. VTDigger first reported on the final approval.

The settlement agreement provides significant monetary compensation to the owners of approximately 2,365 residential properties in Bennington and North Bennington contaminated with PFOA by the plants, according to Emily Joselson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

It also, for the first time in Vermont, establishes a 15-year medical monitoring program that will allow more than 500 class members “who unknowingly drank PFOA-contaminated water and have above background-levels of PFOA in their blood” to be monitored yearly “for the earliest signs or symptoms of medical conditions associated with PFOA,” Joselson said by email.

“I think this is going to be very significant for the community," David Silver, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said Tuesday. “It also gives the community a sense of closure and the ability to go on but also very important is the remedy of medical monitoring, which was really groundbreaking,”

PFOA was traced to exhaust emissions from two former ChemFab Corp. factories, which had been bought by Saint-Gobain, the Bennington Banner has reported. The state and the public learned of the contamination in 2016 and the lawsuit was filed in May of that year. Saint-Gobain later paid more than $40 million to comply with state consent orders to extend municipal water lines and provide clean drinking water to homes with contaminated wells, Joselson said by email. The settlement resolves all plaintiffs' claims alleged against Saint-Gobain.

Bill Knight, whose well was contaminated, said he will seek property damages and medical monitoring after an earlier blood test showed he had elevated levels of PFOA. He said lawyers worked tirelessly for a good settlement and he was very pleased it.

“We are encouraging people to file a claim,” Knight said. Claims can be filed through Aug. 22.

An email seeking comment was sent to a lawyer representing Saint-Gobain.

The Vermont Legislature has passed a bill that codifies that in Vermont people exposed to toxic chemicals can sue the polluter for medical monitoring. Gov. Phil Scott is expected to sign the legislation into law, after vetoing two other previous medical monitoring bills.

PFOA is one of a group of contaminants often called forever chemicals because they last so long in the environment. PFOA is known to cause kidney, testicular, and other cancers and diseases.

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