NORTH BENNINGTON — More areas will be tested for a potentially harmful chemical after initial results found high levels in numerous private wells.
Up to 100 more wells just outside the 1.5 mile radius of the former ChemFab facility will be tested.
That includes two near the state line with New York — near Harrington and McCullough Roads, and near Emmons Road and Ore Bed Road — as well as an area to the southeast that includes Silk Road.
The recent results and expanded testing radius were outlined by officials including Gov. Peter Shumlin at a community meeting Wednesday night at Bennington College.
Residents will be notified by workers going door-to-door and water samples will be taken. Those on private wells are advised to stop drinking from the tap and will be provided bottled water. Test results are expected in about two weeks.
Residents who haven't had their well tested can call the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) at 802-249-5324. For more information, call the state's hot line at 802-828-1038 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or visit www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/PFOA.htm.
Shumlin expressed his commitment to a long-term solution: Connecting impacted homes to the village or town municipal water systems, which aren't contaminated.
The state is hiring private contractors to start the next round of well testing on Thursday, according to Alyssa Schuren, commissioner for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation,
"We're not going to leave you behind," Schuren told attendees. "We'll keep testing so we find the outer limit so that people know what they're drinking is safe and we can stop immediate exposure."
State environmental officials have tested 190 private wells for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a man-made chemical once used to make Teflon. Of the 134 results returned, 94 had levels above the state's "acceptable level" of 20 parts per trillion (ppt), ranging from 32 to 2,730 ppt; seven fell below 20 ppt; and no PFOA was detected in 32 of them.
"We don't like what we're seeing in those areas and we want to make sure folks are protected," Schuren said of the initial radius.
The state is also testing soil at playgrounds, day cares and schools, as well as farms.
Tracy Dolan, the deputy commissioner for the state's Department of Health, said the agency is trying to "accelerate" efforts to conduct blood tests for residents and the hope is to offer them in April.
The Saint-Gobain Corporation has already committed to installing water filters on every affected home; the state has not declared the ChemFab plant, which Saint-Gobain owned at the time it closed in 2002, as the contamination source.
But Shumlin and Chuck Schwer, director of the DEC Waste Management and Prevention Division, agreed the home filter systems offer only a short-term solution.
Schwer said state engineers are exploring how to connect residents to the village and town municipal water systems; PFOA hasn't been found in either.
"We have engineers with the company starting to develop design," he said. "It's a longer process, I can't guarantee how long it would take. But we won't stop until we figure out if it's doable, and if it is, we'll go that route."
Who will pay for the project? Bennington Select Board member Jim Carroll asked Shumlin.
"So far, the company has agreed to pay for everything we asked them to pay for," Shumlin said. "Based on our relationship with them so far, there's no reason to believe they'd say no. We haven't asked yet. We're still working on how big the area is, how many people are impacted."
Shumlin said the relationship between the state and Saint-Gobain has been "excellent." Company representatives "have been extremely cooperative so far." Shumlin thanked them for working in the "spirit of the way we do things in Vermont, which is trying to work together to solve the problem."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979