State officials to update residents on PFOA issues

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BENNINGTON — State officials have scheduled meetings here to discuss issues related to PFOA contamination of wells around two former ChemFab Corp. factories.

The Agency of Natural Resources plans back-to-back informational sessions in Bennington on Monday, May 14, at different locations. The first will focus on the eastern sector of the state-identified perfluorooctanoic acid contamination zone east of Route 7A and the railroad line, and the second on the western sector, where water line extension work is in progress to address the soil and groundwater pollution.

The first session will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Old First Church barn, located just off Monument Circle in Old Bennington. Officials will provide an update on settlement negotiations with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the company the state believes responsible for the contamination.

Those talks are entering a critical stage, as a disagreement persists over possible other sources of PFOA in the eastern sector.

A 7,377-page report prepared by Barr Engineering for Saint-Gobain concluded that there are other likely sources of PFOA in that area, including a closed and capped former town landfill.

State Department of Environmental Conservation personnel have been reviewing that massive report and are expected to offer comments. Thus far, state officials continue to assert that the two former ChemFab plants — on Water Street in North Bennington and Northside Drive in Bennington — were overwhelmingly the cause of the contamination involving more than 150 in the eastern section.

Western section

Meanwhile, in the western section of the contamination zone, municipal water line work has been in progress since last fall and is expected to continue through this fall, connecting some 200 properties to village or town systems to provide clean drinking water.

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An update on that effort, provided by agency staff members and the two engineering firms involved in the water line projects, is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Tishman Hall on the Bennington College campus.

The work is being funded by Saint-Gobain, which is providing up to $20 million for the projects and related costs the state has incurred since PFOA was discovered in local wells in early 2016.

The company and the state reached that settlement last summer, and the state is seeking a similar agreement concerning the remaining contamination sector.

If no agreement can be reached, state officials have said they will take Saint-Gobain to court to recoup costs of addressing the soil and groundwater contamination.

Saint-Gobain acquired ChemFab in 2000 and closed the last local factory — in North Bennington — two years later. In total, the company operated here from 1968 to 2002, coating fiberglass or other fabrics with Teflon in a high-heat drying process that produced the stack emissions the state blames for the widespread contamination.

PFOA was used in the production of Teflon for many decades, and the chemical was only identified since the early 2000s as extremely stable and highly water soluble and capable of being spread widely through the atmosphere.

At the meeting, Bennington College's Center for the Advancement of Public Action also is expected to discuss a survey of health conditions among residents of Bennington and the Hoosick Falls, N.Y., area who were exposed to PFOA through drinking water.

Exposure to the chemical has been associated with several diseases and conditions, such as kidney cancer, testicular cancer and ulcerative colitis; high cholesterol and high-blood pressure.

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


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