The first homes in the Bennington, Vermont area with wells contaminated with the chemical PFOA have been hooked up to a clean municipal water system.
Many homes in the Town of Bennington and Village of North Bennington with private wells have been outfitted with point-of-entry treatment systems to filter out PFOA pollution.
The odorless, tasteless chemical linked to ill-health effects, including thyroid disease and some forms of cancer, was first found in local groundwater in February 2016. The pollution has been linked to the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington, now owned by company Saint-Gobain.
In October, a settlement was enacted between Saint-Gobain and the State of Vermont requiring the company pay for the extension of PFOA-free municipal water lines to contaminated homes in one-half of the area being investigated.
On December 11th, Vermont Governor Phil Scott turned the tap of the first connected home. In a statement, the Republican said the state “will not stop until all impacted residents have safe, clean drinking water.”
Bennington Town Manager Stu Hurd said he was somewhat skeptical when the state said last year that they wanted to see shovels in the ground by the end of 2017.
“But I can tell you that the engineering firms that were working for the state and Saint-Gobain did a hell of a job to get the work done,” said Hurd.
Construction of the water lines began in mid-October. Now, about 30 percent of the water mains in the project area have been completed. The state says 17 additional homes will be connected to municipal water before construction pauses for the winter.
The plan is to connect approximately 220 homes and businesses with 14 miles of new water mains.
Bennington-area State Senator Brian Campion is also pleased with the progress so far.
“I think it’s great progress. I think it’s really an example of government working as it should work.”
Campion, a Democrat, co-authored a bill that was signed into law requiring companies found to have polluted air, ground, or water with PFOA to pay for any cleanup. Campion believes the legislation helped in getting pipes in the ground in the Bennington area.
But negotiations are ongoing between the state and Saint-Gobain about pollution in the area east of Route 7A.
“And hopefully we’ll get something resolved soon. I don’t have a date. There is no deadline on that. But I know and continue to be in contact with the folks up in those neighborhoods and we want to relieve them as we have in this part of 7A,” said Campion.
Meanwhile, Hurd said the line extensions being installed in the current project area will work well with the existing water system.
“We move across Route 7A now we’re going to be pushing water uphill. So there will probably need to be some additional tank or pumping systems that will be added should that project move forward,” said Hurd.
Democratic State Senator Dick Sears said in a statement that he was “encouraged” by the work done so far and that he is “more committed than ever to make sure the eastern Bennington residents get connected to municipal drinking water.”
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is planning a January meeting to update residents about the project’s progress.
The state said Saint-Gobain will provide additional data by the end of this week to help further understand the pollution issue.