Work begins on water line extensions to address PFOA

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BENNINGTON — Waterline construction to address widespread PFOA contamination of private wells has begun in Bennington and North Bennington.

The Agency of Natural Resources also announced in a release Thursday that plans for depositing excess PFOA-contaminated soils from the project along the Route 279 right-of-way will only take place "as a last resort."

A plan to deposit some 44,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil along the highway near the Austin Hill Road intersection was vigorously opposed by residents of the area during a public hearing in September. The site was chosen as the most suitable after an environmental assessment of several proposed sites within the contamination zone.

According to the release, the state Department of Environmental Conservation seeks "to address concerns about soil generated throughout the construction process."

The top priority "will be to put as much soil back into the waterline trenches as possible, and every effort will be made to keep soils as close as possible to where they were generated," the release stated. "The next option will be to place excess soils into the public right-of-way adjacent to the waterline. If excess soils remain following this work, approved private landowner locations will be used."

Those locations "meet human health and environmental standards, including limited erosion potential, situated away from wetlands, rivers or floodplains, already contain PFOA in the soil, and will be connected to municipal water."

The Vermont 279 right-of-way location "will only be used as a last resort, should the property receive approval for this activity," the release states.

Approvals for use of that site are required from the state and from the Federal Highway Administration, as the highway was constructed with federal funding.

Water service will be extended to approximately 200 properties with wells contaminated or threatened by perfluooctanoic acid in the area around former Chem-Fab Corp. factories. Funding comes from a settlement agreement between the state and Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to provide $20 million for the work, which was announced in July and approved by a Superior Court judge in September.

The properties are in a section of the state's designated contamination zone that is roughly west of Route 7A and the rail line. The Agency of Natural Resources is continuing negotiations with Saint-Gobain concerning PFOA contamination east of that line, and state officials believe a similar agreement could be concluded early next year, following further environmental testing of water and soils.

"The agency is very excited to see construction beginning to extend water lines to homes impacted by PFOA contamination in Bennington and North Bennington," said Peter Walke, Deputy Secretary for the ANR. "This is an important milestone and there is more work to be done to ensure long term drinking water solutions for all impacted residents."

The town of Bennington's waterline extension will be 10 miles in length and serve approximately 155 properties in the northwest portion of the town. The Village of North Bennington's waterline extension will run four miles and will serve approximately 55 individual property connections.

The construction contractors will continue to work as long as weather permits and will be focused on laying distribution piping, the release states.

While it is possible some service connections will occur this year, most homes and businesses covered under the settlement with Saint-Gobain will be connected to municipal water next construction season, according to the release. Both projects are estimated to be completed by October 2018.

State officials believe PFOA, a chemical used in the manufacture of the Teflon, which ChemFab used to coat fiberglass fabrics from 1968 through 2002, was primarily spread through factory stack emissions that built up in soil over a wide area around two plants. The material has since leached into groundwater and into private wells.

Saint-Gobain acquired ChemFab in 2000 and closed the local operation in 2002.

The ANR will provide routine project updates. Information is available at http://dec.vermont.gov/commissioners-office/pfoa.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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