Historic ChemFab

Teflon coating equipment is shown in the former ChemFab Corp. factory in North Bennington in a photo taken during the 1970s. PFOA contamination from the operation affected hundreds of wells in the Bennington area, leading to a 2016 class-action suit in federal court. Suit plaintiffs are invited to Zoom sessions starting this month to discuss details of a $34.15 million suit settlement agreement.

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BENNINGTON — Beginning this month, a series of Zoom sessions are planned to ensure participants in a class-action suit over PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) contamination of Bennington area wells have the information they need to submit their claims.

A proposed $34.11 million settlement in the suit against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics was announced in November, and Judge Geoffrey Crawford last month issued preliminary approval in U.S. District Court in Rutland, pending a final approval hearing on April 18.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs said that notices are being sent to the hundreds of potential suit participants, who can begin to file their claims Jan. 18 through the official suit website, www.benningtonvtclassaction.com

The first Zoom session will be held on that date at 5:30 p.m., said David Silver and Emily Joselson, two of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Once settlement notices are received, those affected by the widespread contamination can consult the website about their claim and/or call Silver at 802-442-6341 with questions.

Details for participating in the Zoom meetings will be posted on the website.

“We worked really hard on this for the community, and we are really proud of this settlement,” Silver said. “We think they will be happy with it and hope [all potential class members] will participate.”

TWO SUIT CLASSES

Joselson noted that the suit has a property class of plaintiffs – representing owners of property in a contamination zone around two former ChemFab Corp. plants in Bennington – and current or former residents who drank contaminated water and have elevated levels of PFOA in their blood.

The latter are eligible for a 15-year medical monitoring program to be funded through the suit settlement agreement.

Long-term monitoring was sought because PFOA has been associated with kidney, testicular and other cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid diseases, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol. Levels of PFOA in the blood are also known to decline slowly over many years.

The industrial chemical was used in the production of liquid Teflon, which ChemFab used to coat fiberglass materials that were then dried at high temperatures.

The contaminant is believed to have spread through the factory exhaust stacks over a wide swath of Bennington and parts of North Bennington and southern Shaftsbury, working its way through soil to the groundwater.

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The attorneys said that between 2,500 to 2,700 properties, representing more than 8,000 individuals, are located in the state-identified contamination zone – including some parcels without buildings.

To be eligible for the property class, the property must have been owned on March 14, 2016, when the well contamination was discovered, or purchased as residential real estate after that day and later added to the state Department of Environmental Conservation identified zone of concern.

MEDICAL MONITORING

There are more than 500 people whose PFOA blood levels are known to be elevated — or above 2.1 parts per billion — and others might be eligible for the medical monitoring program and should be tested, the attorneys said.

Those include the children of residents who have moved away from Bennington and former residents who have moved out of the area. Anyone who resided in the contamination zone prior to Aug. 23, 2019, might be eligible for inclusion in the exposure class.

Free blood testing will be offered for the first 180 days of the medical monitoring program. Those eligible to enroll and who complete the Initial Informational Survey and Screening Consultation will receive a $100 incentive payment, the attorneys said.

People in the medical monitoring group also will be able to participate remotely where they live.

Fewer people are in the medical monitoring group than the property class because many residents had town water and did not rely on wells for drinking water. Individuals can, however, be eligible for both the property and medical monitoring groups.

The settlement agreement with Saint-Gobain sets aside $26.2 million for damages to property and owners, and $6 million for the costs of the medical monitoring program.

‘SIGNIFCANT COMPENSATION’

James Sullivan, of North Bennington, one of the named plaintiffs in the class-action suit and designated as a spokesman for the group, said in a release, “This settlement provides significant compensation and medical monitoring to the Bennington community affected by the PFOA contamination, and we strongly support it. We especially want to initiate the medical monitoring program as soon as possible.”

The monitoring program will be based at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, and arrangements will be made for those eligible group members who have moved away.

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com

Reporter/editor

Jim Therrien reports for the three Vermont News and Media newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield Republican, and the former North Adams Transcript.


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