NORTH BENNINGTON — Five wells within the village limits have tested positive for the same chemical that contaminated the Hoosick Falls, N.Y., drinking water.
North Bennington's public water supply, which is located two miles from the suspected contamination source and serves 1,700 people, tested negative for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a man-made chemical once used to make Teflon.
Of the wells found to contain PFOA, three serve private residences, one serves a local landscaping company, and one, which is not used for drinking, is at the North Bennington Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) took water samples last week and sent them out of state. Officials suspect the contamination source is the former ChemFab location.
Gov. Peter Shumlin announced the test results at a press conference in Montpelier Thursday morning, two hours after the state received them.
Immediate goals: Additional testing and providing safe water
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 Monday, Town Meeting Day.
Shumlin said the goal now is to determine if there is more contamination in North Bennington and to make sure people have safe drinking water. Then, Vermont will work with New York environmental officials handling the Hoosick Falls problem to find parties responsible for the contamination.
Shumlin said the affected property owners have been notified and the state will immediately begin supplying them with bottled water and working on a long-term solution. He said the affected area is not densely populated and largely falls between the Papermill and Hendry bridges. He said more tests on the surrounding area, including the Walloomsac River, will determine the extent of the contamination.
Anyone who wants their water, or they themselves, to be tested for PFOA should contact Chuck Schwer, director of the Waste Management and Prevention Division of the Department of Environmental Conservation at 802-249-5324.
Focus is on ChemFab
Testing was done last week after a citizen contacted local legislators about possible contamination at the former ChemFab facility. In turn, state senators Brian Campion and Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and state Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, notified the governor's office.
"Although this information is disturbing, I think it's extremely important to have," Campion told the Banner.
Campion said he and DEC officials will be in North Bennington on Friday and again on Monday "to make certain all necessary steps are being taken to ensure people's health and safety."
The former ChemFab plant operated at the H.C. White Mill complex at 940 and 1030 Water St. for over 30 years. ChemFab and its holdings were purchased by Saint-Gobain in 2000 and ceased operations in North Bennington in 2002. Saint-Gobain still owns a factory in Hoosick Falls.
Saint-Gobain Spokesperson Dina Silver Pokedoff said the company "has contacted state and local officials and has offered to fund the provision of bottled water and point-of-use filtration systems" for those affected and "will cooperate with all local, state and federal officials as they investigate and manage this issue."
Same chemical found in New York
Late last year, the EPA told the 4,900 users on the Hoosick Falls, N.Y., water system not to drink or cook with tap water because it contains PFOA, a man-made chemical once used to make nonstick cookware, insulated wires and water repellent products. It's been linked to cancer, is the subject of numerous lawsuits, and many scientists and activists are calling for stricter regulation. It's also suspected to have been used in nearby factories for decades.
Its discovery led New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's administration 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 potentially responsible for the contamination.
PFOA has also been found in Petersburgh, N.Y.
PFOA's discovery in North Bennington drew the attention of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The presidential candidate said the state must continue to "aggressively investigate" the situation, keep families informed and ensure all Vermonters have safe water.
"Moreover, the state must hold the polluters responsible for their actions," Sanders said in a statement.
Federal law doesn't require municipalities to test for PFOA. It's one of 100 "emerging contaminants" under consideration for the Clean Water Act.
A key processing agent used to make Teflon, the powdery substance was often released into the atmosphere via smokestacks and ventilation ducts before it settled and leached into groundwater. Companies like DuPont and 3M agreed in 2006 to phase out its use by 2015.
Dr. Harry Chen, commissioner of the Vermont DEC, 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 for short-term exposure, or about 15 minutes. The residential wells ranged from 40 to 2,880 ppt. The wastewater treatment plant well tested at 618 ppt and the landscaping business, 168 ppt.
In 2006, the EPA adopted a federal standard for short-term exposure of 400 ppt. But in the Hoosick Falls case, they've told private well owners to not drink the water if PFOA levels are above 100 ppt.
The first tests in Hoosick Falls showed the water system had levels up to 670 ppt. Water underneath the Saint-Gobain site, where PFOA was likely used for decades by former owners, was 18,000 ppt.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979