Water line funds proposed for Bennington PFOA project

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BENNINGTON — The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved funding to design the second phase of water line extensions to deal with PFOA contamination of wells in Bennington.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said Wednesday that $750,000 was approved to cover full design of water line extensions to properties affected by perfluorooctanoic acid in what is called the eastern section of a contamination zone around two former ChemFab Corp. factories.

Those properties are roughly east of Route 7A in Bennington and a rail line.

Construction of new water lines to about 200 properties in the western section of the zone began last fall, following a consent agreement between the state Agency of Natural Resources and Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. In that agreement, Saint-Gobain agreed to provide up to $20 million for water line work and to cover other costs borne by the state since PFOA was discovered here in wells in 2016.

The international firm, which the state considers the responsible party for the PFOA, acquired ChemFab in 2000 and moved its local operations to New Hampshire in 2002.

Money for blood testing

In addition to funding for design work, Sears said $200,000 was approved by the Appropriations Committee for blood testing of residents exposed to PFOA, primarily through drinking water. He said that could include testing for residents who were not included in past blood draws organized by the state, testing of former residents who lived here while the ChemFab plants operated, from 1968 to 2002, and retesting of those who attended prior blood draws.

ChemFab coated fiberglass and other fabrics with Teflon in a process that include drying at high temperatures, producing stack emissions which state officials believe spread PFOA contamination across a wide swath of North Bennington and Bennington.

Sears said Wednesday that a request to insert the funding into the state's fiscal 2019 budget will next go to the full Senate and, if approved, to the House as part of budget proposals. He said he previously conferred with Scott administration officials and believes there is support at that level.

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The funds would go into a now-depleted account set up to deal with situations involving toxic materials, he said, adding that the account could be replenished if the state reaches a settlement with Saint-Gobain that covers water line extensions and other costs in the eastern section.

Could speed design work

"This will allow us to move forward and not wait for settlement with Saint-Gobain," Sears said. "Additionally, there will be $200,000 for blood draws to help families continue to monitor the impact on their health and that of family members who may not have been able to make previous blood draws. I am hopeful that the full Senate will support these appropriations and that the [House-Senate] conference committee on the budget will also approve."

PFOA exposure has been associated in medical studies with certain cancers and other diseases and conditions.

Since reaching a consent agreement with Saint-Gobain last summer for the western section, the state has been involved in a settlement process that involved additional engineering and other testing in the disputed sector. A study conducted for Saint-Gobain, which was submitted last month to the state as part of the process, contends that the two ChemFab factories were not the only source of PFOA in the section.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which remains convinced the factories were the dominant factor in creating the soil and groundwater pollution, is now reviewing that 7,377-page-page document.

Officials plan to update the Bennington community on PFOA-related issues during a meeting here next month.

State officials have said they'll pursue legal options against the firm, if necessary, to fund a permanent source of clean drinking water to the area. Officials also believe that extension of municipal water lines would be the most effective method of accomplishing that.

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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