POWNAL — State officials are considering finding a new water source for a municipal system contaminated with PFOA.
At least 200 residents at a community meeting Monday learned investigators will probe other waste sites in addition to the former Route 346 factory.
Alyssa Schuren, commissioner for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said a new water source for the 450 residences connected to the Pownal Fire District No. 2 could be Williamstown, Mass., or another nearby town. Another option is a carbon filtration system, similar to one installed in Hoosick Falls, N.Y.
But the state still needs to find out where the potentially harmful chemical came from, Schuren said. She said the state intends to hold a responsible party accountable for all costs associated with the crisis, including a cleanup.
And a new water source wouldn't help private well owners, said Chuck Schwer, director of DEC's Waste Management and Prevention Division. It's unknown whether private wells in Pownal have PFOA levels as high as those near North Bennington, he said, "but it's something we want to find out as quickly as possible."
In the meantime, anyone with a private well within one mile of the former Warren Wire Plant No. 1 on Route 346 is being told to stop drinking and cooking with tap water.
"We set a mile radius because the levels are so low, our theory is that it hasn't spread in the way we've seen in North Bennington," Schuren explained.
Schwer said staff planned to start well testing on Tuesday and hoped to finish within a week. It could take up to two weeks before the first round of results come back.
Other sites to be tested include the elementary school and nearby trailer parks.
Residents outside the mile radius are being asked to remain patient and told the state could expand its testing area. Residents who pay out-of-pocket for well testing are asked to report results to the state and, if testing detects PFOA, they can be reimbursed by the state.
The state tested the municipal water system over concerns that PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, was used at the former Warren Wire factory. The man-made chemical used for decades to make Teflon is not required in water testing. Studies have linked exposure with health problems including high cholesterol and kidney and testicular cancer. Vermont allows 20 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water. Three samples taken from the municipal water system in the village of Pownal had 26 and 27 ppt. The majority of wells in the North Bennington area had 100 ppt or higher.
The levels in Pownal aren't believed to cause negative health effects, according to Tracy Dolan, Deputy Commissioner for the state Department of Health. She said people with a history of cancer or high cholesterol in their family should speak with their healthcare provider. The state doesn't believe blood tests will be necessary, she said, and that showering and bathing in the water is safe.
Officials said they will start testing soil near the Route 346 factory. The state is studying how PFOA is absorbed by plants and livestock.
Those in attendance spoke about other possible manufacturing facilities in town, as well as a few former landfills where hazardous waste might have been dumped.
Schuren said her agency is looking to speak with anyone with information about potential waste dumping.
More information for residents
Officials have told affected residents to stop drinking their tap water. Potable water is available at the Pownal Rescue Squad headquarters, 22 Ladd Brook Road (on the corner of Ladd Brook Road and Route 7); Burdick Trailer Park; Green Mountain Mobile Home Park; and the Alta Garden Trailer Park.
To sign up for well testing online, visit the state's website at www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/PFOA.htm.
An informational line is staffed weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 802-828-1038.
An information center at the DOH offices, 324 Main St., is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979