Residents learn more about PFOA response


BENNINGTON >> Attendees of a public meeting on Wednesday were updated on efforts to address water contamination from PFOA.

More than 100 people turned out to Bennington College, where they were briefed on and asked questions about blood tests for the man-made industrial chemical, environmental studies, and municipal water line extensions.

Blood tests are expected to be returned by September, according to state Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan. The state will analyze unique populations such as children, people with health conditions, and former employees of the manufacturing facility that is believed to be the contamination source. She said health officials will be able to "give a more comprehensive report so we can learn and so you can learn more about how this is affecting your community."

While state officials fielded residents' questions, they also admitted they may not have all of the answers. A big one — <URL destination="">who will pay to bring public water to impacted Bennington and North Bennington homes, which engineers for the town and village estimate will cost $32 million?

</URL> Alyssa Schuren, commissioner for the Department of Environmental Conservation, said talks between Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, which the state says is the potentially responsible party, are ongoing.

Officials took many questions on the science behind PFOA as well as the process. Some residents said their property was very close to municipal water lines, but not included in the revised report. Officials also spoke about immediate efforts — Saint-Gobain agreed to pay for bottled water and to install filtration systems on 243 contaminated private wells. The conversation also focused on the long term.

Richard Spiese, hazardous site manager with DEC, said his team will conduct geophysical studies in contaminated private wells to study how the underground contamination plume may move. It will also determine whether another well could be dug to avoid bringing public water to some homes. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Union College students will study how PFOA moves through soil, he said.

The state is receiving some help from Bennington College — a $90,000 National Science Foundation Rapid Response Grant funded a new class called "Understanding PFOA." The course took place this spring and will be offered again in the fall.

PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a man-made chemical once used as a key processing agent during the manufacturing of Teflon. Contamination is believed to have come from the former ChemFab/Saint-Gobain site on Water Street in the village of North Bennington.

"We asked what training is required to enable and power communities to ask the right kind of question and be informed citizens," said David Bond, associate director for the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA).

Bond and two faculty members worked with 20 college students and eight community members, which included faculty of local public schools. Participants learned about the "basic chemistry, geology and policy on PFOA," Bond said, and were trained to take water samples, interpret lab results and theorize how the underground contamination plume moves. Three speakers visited campus. And a website with PFOA resources, including news articles and peer reviewed science, was also established:

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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