Letter to the editor: The unknown unknowns

The unknown unknowns

The March 28 Bennington Select Board meeting began with a discussion of the PFOA water crisis. The board should be commended for recognizing the urgency of the problem. Town Manager Stuart Hurd gave a comprehensive analysis.

In trying to understand the depth of this problem, the famous old quote comes to mind. "... as we know, there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know that there are known unknowns: this is to say that there are some things we know that we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know that we don't know." Donald H. Rumsfeld - Dept of Defense News Briefing, February 12, 2002

The knowns: PFOA has contaminated water supplies. PFOA has affected property values and future economic development. PFOA has been controversial for many decades.

It is reported that PFOA can be absorbed by agricultural products.

The unknowns: How much damage will be done to Vermont agriculture. What are the dosage levels that would impact health.

Epidemiological studies could take decades to give a definitive answer.

"...In the fall of 2000, lawyer Rob Bilott, a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, won a court order forcing DuPont to share all documentation related to PFOA. This included 110,000 files, consisting of confidential studies and reports conducted by DuPont scientists over decades. By 1993, DuPont understood that "PFOA caused cancerous testicular, pancreatic and liver tumors in lab animals" and the company began to investigate alternatives. However, products manufactured with PFOA were such an integral part of DuPont's earnings, $1 billion in annual profit, they chose to continue using PFOA.[9] Billott learned that both "3M and DuPont had been conducting secret medical studies on PFOA for more than four decades," and by 1961 DuPont was aware of hepatomegaly in mice fed with PFOA...". Wikipedia

We have learned over time, to not always trust 'expert' opinion. Remember when asbestos was considered safe. Also lead paint, HRT, Hexachlorophene in infant soap, Thimerosol... The list is very long. Remember when there were fluoroscopes in shoe stores. Remember when the 'experts' told us that nuclear power would make electricity so inexpensive that electric meters would be obsolete.

We are now dealing with a serious crisis. Hopefully, the Select Board will continue to make this a number one priority. Every day that the cloud of uncertainty is over SW Vermont, is one more day that damage to the Vermont image continues.

Citizens need action, not comforting words... or the assurance that a legal battle will eventually bring those responsible to justice. That is of no consolation to the young family who misses an opportunity to advance because they cannot sell their house - or to the 80 year-old who now must lug drinking water in from a distance.

There are a few things we know for certain. Many more wells must be tested. And we also know that municipal water lines must be extended. ASAP. Get the funds from Washington, and let the Feds go after those who created this problem in the first place.

— Rosemarie Jackowski Bennington


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