North Bennington man protests dumping of PFOA soil

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BENNINGTON — A Silk Road man is protesting deposits of PFOA-contaminated soil near his property as part of ongoing water line extension work in North Bennington.

Bruce Weinfurt, of 1058 Silk Road, has erected a sign near his home, saying, "Stop dumping toxic PFOA soil here (Save our H2O)" 

A vegetable and fruit tree farmer, Weinfurt said Tuesday that he has complained to state Agency of Natural Resources officials and a contractor working on the water line project. And he plans to continue that protest when state officials update the Bennington area on PFOA-related issues during meetings here May 14.

Officials responded that they are willing to work with Weinfurt to resolve any issues but don’t believe the situation creates a serious pollution or water runoff problem for the area.

"This is creating a PFOA toxic dump," Weinfurt said, "and all of the water [surface drainage] is running into my property."

He contends that hop plants and new fruit trees were affected by excess water, which he said previously drained away from his land. 

The PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) in excess soil from the digging of new water line trenches also has helped hike the level of PFOA in his well water, Weinfurt believes, with a recent test showing 430 parts per trillion in the water, compared to 297 parts per trillion in a previous test.

Both amounts are well above the state's advisory level for drinking water, 20 parts per trillion, but Weinfurt's well is being cleaned by an on-site POET (point-of-entry treatment) filtering system. 

The water line extension work in progress in North Bennington and Bennington is designed to provide clean drinking water to about 200 properties with PFOA contamination around two former ChemFab Corp. factories. The work is being funded by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the firm the state believes is the responsible party for PFOA contamination that emanated from the factory stacks and spread over a wide area, working into the groundwater.

State response

Reached via email Tuesday, ANR Deputy Secretary Peter Walke said, "We understand that Mr. Weinfurt has concerns about drainage. Like we do with all inquiries, we asked the appropriate entity, in this case MSK [Engineering and Design Inc.], to look into the matter. We’re happy to continue to work with Mr. Weinfurt and others to work to address their concerns."

Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, who was contacted by Weinfurt, said he and fellow Bennington County Democratic Sen. Dick Sears had contacted Walke around the complaint.

"As I recently informed the senators," Walke said in an email, "decisions about where to place soils from the water line construction project have resided with the town/village, their engineers, and the construction contractors. We reviewed their plan and were comfortable with it for two reasons: 1., the PFOA levels in these soils do not represent an increased risk to public health, and 2., all residents along Silk Road have been offered connections to the Bennington public water supply."

In an email to a state official seeking information on the complaint, Jason Dolmetsch, president of MSK Engineering, said in part, “I reviewed the site again with my staff engineer. I also reviewed existing conditions information of the location in question that I had readily available. After reviewing this information, it is my opinion that the standing water and wetness that Mr. Weinfurt claims is caused by the placement of construction related spoils on the adjacent Mayer property is entirely unrelated to construction activities or the placement of those spoils.”

Dolmetsch added: “Rather the placement is a very typical hydrologic condition that can occur where there is a substantial change in grade at the base of a hill during periods of high groundwater, particularly spring.” 

Declined water line connection

Weinfurt said that he turned down a chance to connect to the new water line when it was installed past his property and is continuing to use a carbon filtering system previously funded by the state and Saint-Gobain. He said his POET system is working to reduce the contamination and it costs him several hundred dollars less annually than would water bills from the municipal system. 

In addition, he said he’s concerned that similar contamination problems could develop in the future with municipal water supplies, although the system is now considered a clean source. 

Weinfurt said he believes up to 200 truckloads of soil from the project were dumped about 100 yards west of his property, and he was "never warned this would happen." He said a state official recently told him he should have received an email.

The property owner added that he is "beyond pissed off," and is considering hiring an attorney to represent him. 

Soil deposits protested

In a similar protest, a group of residents near the Route 279 right-of-way near Austin Hill Road vociferously objected last fall against a proposal to dump some of the excess water line project soil there, prompting the state to revise that plan.

In January, the state Department of Environmental Conservation revised its earlier plan to deposit in the right-of-way up to 44,000 cubic yards of PFOA-contaminated soil from the water line projects.

Residents along the highway near the New York border were unconvinced by a state-commissioned assessment report on possible soil dumping locations, which noted that the soil in those areas already has significantly more contamination than would be deposited, and town water lines were to be extended to the area. 

The revised soil plan called for depositing excess trench soil close to water line excavation sites and to look for other sites in the contamination zone where the owner would accept some excess soil.

On May 14, state officials will update residents on both the water line projects and on negotiations with Saint-Gobain over a solution for PFOA pollution of properties in the eastern sector of the contamination zone, east of Route 7A and a rail line.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com. @BB_therrien on Twitter.

Editor's note: This story was updated on May 9 at 2:20 p.m.


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