POWNAL >> Gov. Peter Shumlin visited Pownal on Monday to officially declare the town's water as being safe to drink.
Shumlin's office announced last Thursday that the state was lifting the no-drink order on water from Pownal Fire District No. 2 after a newly installed filter proved to be successfully removing PFOA from the water.
"It was March when we got the bad news," said Shumlin, "Four months later, the people of Pownal can drink their water and know it's good and clean."
Shumlin spoke before members of the community and the press at the Pownal Rescue Squad. He commended the town for, "taking a tough situation and making it better."
"This community came together and said, 'let's not get hysterical, let's get something done,'" Shumlin said.
The granular activated carbon filter was installed by Unicorn Management Consultants earlier this month. The entire water system needed to be flushed before residents could drink the water. American Premier Underwriters (APU) agreed to pay for the filters.
On APU, Shumlin said, "They moved quickly. They wanted to help, they didn't put up roadblocks... APU has been fantastic about responding to our concerns."
Technicians for the state then tested 92 private wells around the villages of Pownal and North Pownal. Of those, seven had PFOA levels above the state's limit, between 22.7 and 66.2 parts per trillion. Levels were below 20 ppt in 12 wells. PFOA was not detected in 73 wells, according to the DEC.
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is linked to cancers and other diseases. It's the same chemical that was found in Bennington and North Bennington, the Shaftsbury landfill, and in Hoosick Falls, N.Y.
Shumlin praised Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren, who has been working with the community since the chemical was first detected. "Do they come any better than Alyssa Schuren? No, they don't," he said.
For her part, Schuren thanked Shumlin, saying that he had been supportive and had given the DEC all of the resources it needed to solve the problem. "I have been so proud to work with you," she told the governor, "and I thank you for that."
Addressing the people of Pownal, Schuren thought back to the first meeting she had had with the community, when the first test results were announced. "The state didn't have many answers," she admitted, saying that officials were still learning themselves, "But the one thing we promised that night was that we were going to find those answers together, and we were not going to leave Pownal behind. We have done that."
State Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Bennington 1, whose district includes Pownal, said he was lucky to have such a supportive delegation to work with on issues such as this one, including state Sens. Dick Sears and Brian Campion, both Democrats for the Bennington District, and state Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington 2-2. All of them were in attendance for the event.
"We know we have more work to do," said Botzow, "but, as you know, our community really rises to the occasion. When something needs to get done, we come together and work together. That's the kind of community I want to live in."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.