BENNINGTON — State environmental officials are moving forward on setting a standard for PFOA in drinking water.
The state's new standard for the man-made chemical that turned up in public and private water supplies, when the rulemaking process is complete, would be the lowest in the country.
The proposed amendments to the state's groundwater protection and hazardous waste management rules would set a limit of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOA and related chemical PFOS in drinking water. That standard is already being enforced under an emergency rule issued to the Agency of Natural Resources in May that also classified the chemicals as hazardous waste.
A public comment period ended Friday. ANR will address the comments in a responsiveness summary, according to Danika Frisbie with DEC. That summary and a final copy of the proposed rule will be submitted to the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. The LCAR will make the final decision on whether or not to adopt the proposed amendments, according to Frisbie.
The company that owned a suspected source of PFOA contamination in North Bennington had challenged the state's standard in court. One complaint was dismissed by a Washington County judge last month. Two other complaints are still pending in environmental court.
The Saint-Gobain Corporation argued that the 20 ppt standard lacked scientific data and alleged the state did not follow Vermont's Administrative Procedures Act.
Washington County Superior Court Judge Timothy Tomasi ruled the state had jurisdiction to make the standard.
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, was used to make the non-stick coating Teflon for decades before it was phased out. It's in a family of perfluorinated chemicals that repel oil and water. PFOA has been linked to cause cancers, kidney and thyroid diseases, high cholesterol and other diseases.
DEC believes the former ChemFab/Saint-Gobain plant, which closed in 2001, is the source. The state has been in talks with the company during site investigations.
Of the 525 private wells tested for PFOA and related chemicals since February, 259 had PFOA levels above the state's 20 ppt standard. In 71 wells, PFOA was detected below the state's standard. No PFOA was detected in 194 wells.
In 183 of the wells tested, levels were found above the federal standard of 70 ppt. Of those, 10 wells located on North Bennington Road, near Royal Street and the former ChemFab plant, were above 1,000 ppt. The highest amount – 2,730 ppt – was found at a well on Harrington Road.
Vermont's final standard for PFOA in drinking water would be the lowest in the country. New Jersey set a 40 ppt limit in 2007. New York has used a 100 ppt limit after contamination was found around Hoosick Falls. The Environmental Protection Agency issued new a lifetime health advisory of 70 ppt in May. That replaced a 2009 provisional health advisory of 400 ppt for short-term exposure (weeks to months).
The Vermont Department of Health first issued a health advisory for PFOA in February. On March 16, DEC Commissioner Alyssa Schuren set DOH's 20 ppt health advisory as the interim groundwater enforcement standard until the state's Groundwater Protection Rule and Strategy could be amended. ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz filed an emergency rule on April 13 that listed PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances and adopted 20 ppt as the groundwater protection enforcement standard. Markowitz refiled the emergency rule on Aug. 25 because it was set to expire.
Saint-Gobain attorneys, in complaints filed on April 13, argued that the interim enforcement standard was designated without public comment; the company sought a declaratory judgement to strike it down.
Judge Tomasi ruled that there was no federal standard when the state set an interim standard.
"The salient issue here is whether the interim standard has any present effect. It does not," Tomasi wrote in an Aug. 22 opinion. "The court sees nothing in the applicable statutes... that would cause it to somehow spring back to life in the future — even if that emergency rule lapses."
"The Washington Superior Court held that the interim PFOA standard of 20 ppt was nullified when the state enacted an emergency rule in its place," Saint-Gobain Spokeswoman Dina Silver Pokedoff said in a statement. "Saint-Gobain's two other legal challenges to the 20 ppt standard remain active."
DEC officials declined to comment on Saint-Gobain's pending suits.
ANR and DEC have eight months from the time of filing to complete the rulemaking process and adopt the amendments. The amendments were filed on July 12.
Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.