NORTH BENNINGTON >> Five wells in North Bennington have tested positive for elevated levels of the same carcinogen that has contaminated the Hoosick Falls, N.Y. drinking water supply.
The village's public water supply, which is located two miles from the suspected source of the contamination and serves 1,700 people, tested negative for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Three of the wells found to contain PFOA are for residences, while one supplies a landscaping company. The fifth well, which is not used for drinking, is at the North Bennington Wastewater Treatment Facility.
The findings were announced by Governor Peter Shumlin during a press conference in Montpelier Thursday morning, two hours after the results of testing were returned.
Shumlin said those affected have been notified and the state will immediately begin supplying them with bottled water and working to provide them with a long-term solution. He said there will be more tests and that anyone who feels their water, or they themselves, need to be tested for elevated levels of PFOA should contact Chuck Schwer, director of the Waste Management and Prevention Division of the Department of Environmental Conservation at 802-249-5324.
There will be a meeting Friday, 4 p.m. at the North Bennington Fire Station where DEC officials will be on hand to answer questions. State officials will also be in Bennington on Town Meeting Day to answer any more queries from the public.
Shumlin said it's believed that the source of the contamination is the former ChemFab plant, which operated at the H.C. White Mill complex at 940 and 1030 Water St. for over 30 years. ChemFab was purchased by the Saint-Gobain Corporation in 2000 and shut down in 2002.
The goal now is to determine if there is more contamination and to make sure people have clean water to drink, Shumlin said. Once that is done, Vermont will work with New York environmental officials handling the Hoosick Falls problem to determine the responsible parties.
His administration decided to have the North Bennington wells tested after the situation in Hoosick Falls was brought up by Bennington's legislative delegation.
The EPA has told Hoosick Falls, N.Y. residents not to drink the tap water because it contains PFOA, a man-made chemical once used to make nonstick cookware and to insulate wires. It's believed to have been used in the village's old factories for decades. It's also been linked to cancer, is the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging contamination and negligence, and many scientists and activists are calling for stricter regulation.
Its discovery led the state to declare part of the village a Superfund site, launch health studies and test private wells. The state identified Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International as the parties responsible for the contamination.
Saint-Gobain is paying for bottled water for residents and a filtration system.
Shumlin said the affected area in North Bennington is not densely populated and largely falls between the Papermill and Hendry bridges. He said more tests will be done to determine the scope of the elevated PFOA levels. The Walloomsac River will be tested as well.
Dr. Harry Chen, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said there are no acute dangers from PFOA. The problems, such as cancer and endocrine system issues, come from prolonged exposure to elevated levels. The harm comes from ingesting it, as it does not absorb well through skin.
Vermont standards say 20 parts per trillion of PFOA are considered acceptable. The wastewater treatment plant tested at 618 ppt and the landscaping business 168 ppt. The residential wells ranged from 40 to 2,880 ppt.
The federal EPA's standard is 400 ppt. In Hoosick Falls, testing showed the village's water system serving some 4,900 people had up to 670 ppt. Underneath the Saint-Gobain site, where PFOA was likely used for decades, levels were up to 18,000 ppt.
This story will be updated.