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POWNAL — Soil and water testing has resumed at a former Warren Wire Co. site off Route 7 that previously was investigated for evidence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination associated with the company’s use of Teflon or related industrial substances.

Kimberly Caldwell, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s waste management division, said the site investigation work is being done by Unicorn Management Consultants on behalf of American Premier Underwriters Inc.

The insurance firm provided liability coverage for Mack Molding Co. when it purchased the former Warren Wire/later General Cable main factory building on Route 346 to use primarily for storage.

Since early 2016, American Premier Underwriters has been funding remediation work to deal with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) contamination found in the Pownal Fire District 2 well head on Route 346, located about 1,000 feet from the factory site.

Unicorn Management Consultants has also provided environmental engineering services at that location.

“They are currently expanding on the site investigation work that they did in March,” Caldwell said of the ongoing work in Pownal Center. “They are not at a point yet where they are evaluating corrective action options, because they have not fully determined the extent of contamination and they need to collect more data.”

She added, “Once they are done with the investigation work … they will need to present an evaluation of options to DEC and propose their selected option.”

PFOA DISCOVERIESThe federal Environmental Protection Agency previously performed initial site testing on the now-vacant site off Route 7, which is bordered on the south by North Pownal Road and on the west by Center Street. That involved soil, groundwater and surface water sampling.

The testing followed discovery of extensive PFAS contamination of water supplies and wells in Hoosick and Petersburgh, New York, and later in Bennington and North Bennington, all traced to industrial operations.

In Bennington, PFOA contamination of private wells was found over a wide swath around two former ChemFab Corp. factories, now both vacant. ChemFab was formed in the late 1960s by some of the principals of Warren Wire Co., after the Pownal operations had been sold to General Cable Co.

All of the industrial operations are believed to have involved the application of coatings containing PFOA to wire, fiberglass fabrics and other materials, along with contamination emanating from factory exhaust stacks that settled in the surrounding soils and eventually worked into groundwater.

ONGOING TESTING

Along with the initial investigation by the EPA, the state DEC conducted a series of well water tests around the 2.87-acre Route 7 parcel, which is across from the Pownal Center Firehouse and not far from the Pownal town offices on Center Street.

Mobile home parks also are located across Route 7 and just to the north of the former Warren Wire site.

“Earlier this year [Unicorn Management Consultants] started work at the site to retest the areas that EPA investigated in 2016,” Caldwell said. “They are now expanding on that data with more soil and groundwater testing to fully define the extent of PFAS contamination. This includes looking at deeper groundwater and how contamination may be migrating in the subsurface.”

Warren Wire leased the site in the early 1950s, she said.

“Since a release [of PFAS contaminants] to the environment was identified, DEC requires that the degree and extent of contamination is defined and any risk to receptors (including water supplies) are identified,” she said in an email. “Once the site investigation is completed, options for corrective action are evaluated.”

Approximately 30 wells in the areas have been tested for PFAS, she said, including at the town offices.

“To date, only one property in the area has had an exceedance to the drinking water standard,” Caldwell said. “The water at that location is currently being treated [filtered]. This work will help better understand how the site contamination on the former Warren Wire site could be connected to contamination in nearby wells and if other areas need to be tested.”

SITE HISTORYThe consultants submitted a report submitted to the DEC in June, detailing site work conducted in February and March on the former Warren Wire parcel.

“The site was developed in approximately 1940 as an automotive garage,” Unicorn Management Consultants said in the report. “In 1953, the site was leased to [Warren Wire Co.] who used the former site building to manufacture and process wire until 1957. After [the company] vacated the site, the former building was used for the manufacture of mobile homes and by a metal anodizing company before it burned down in 1966.”

All that remained of the former building was an approximately 90- by 90-foot concrete pad that served as the building foundation, the report stated. Part of the parcel also apparently is a wetlands site.

“PFAS were detected in groundwater samples collected from all but one of the nine [test monitoring] wells installed by UMC,” the consultants wrote.

Other background information included in the consultant’s report included that articles in the former North Adams Transcript state that the site first housed an automobile garage and showroom, constructed in 1940.

Property records indicated that the site was sold three times between 1950 and 1953, the consultants wrote, and that it was then leased from 1953 to 1957 by Warren Wire Co., which manufactured aircraft wires and cables, while it was expanding its main plant on Route 346.

Other businesses that have since leased or owned the site included Berkshire Industries, which manufactured mobile homes, and later Modern Aluminum Anodizing Corp. The latter company’s building burned in June 1966, The Transcript reported.

Based on historical aerial photographs, an original approximately 4.5-acre parcel was subdivided between approximately 1960 and 1972, resulting in the current 2.87-acre property, the consultants said, and the remaining portion that was developed into the abutting mobile home park.

The site property is currently owned by Glen Matunas of Shaftsbury, who purchased the property in October 2015.

Matunas said in a 2018 article that he purchased the Center Street parcel for just over $20,000. He subsequently spent more than double that amount, he said, on engineering, attorney fees and other costs in gaining permits to establish a seasonal ice cream restaurant.

Matunas said he obtained wetlands protection and other permits, along with permission to drill a well. But during that process, “I started getting letters from the EPA and the DEC” concerning discovery of PFOA in groundwater around the former Warren Wire/General Cable factory, he said.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com


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