Ron Pembroke, left, and Gov. Peter Shumlin discussing the water contamination
Gov. Peter Shumlin went to North Bennington Tuesday morning to see for himself the community where residents suddenly have to worry about drinking water from their wells. Tests by the Department of Environmental Conservation recently detected a chemical contaminant, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in five wells near a plant that used to make Teflon and other products.
The state has collected and is testing samples from 135 more wells, with results expected next week.
Shumlin stood outside the Chemfab plant, which closed in 2002 and may have been the source of the PFOA. He stopped by the storage shed behind the North Bennington Variety store where residents can pick up water jugs and six-packs of bottled water.
And he and an entourage of media swarmed a landscaping business, one of five locations where a well tested positive for excessive levels of PFOA. Shumlin assured owner Ron Pembroke that the state would conduct tests of the nearby river water and sediment since Pembroke uses the water to irrigate plants he sells.
“Your response has been good,” Pembroke told the governor.
At Bennington College, Shumlin and his staff updated a nervous crowd before fielding questions for nearly an hour. “My message is simple,” Shumlin assured the crowd. “We are in this together. We are going to require the company to make us whole again.”
Alyssa Schuren, environmental conservation commissioner, reported that the state would finish taking well samples within a 1.5-mile radius of the shuttered plant this week, then take samples from streams, rivers and ponds.
Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan reviewed the potential health risks of PFOA, advising people whose water tests were pending to refrain from drinking their water, giving it to pets, brushing their teeth or cooking with it.
Residents sought assurances that the state would help connect homes to the North Bennington municipal water system, which tested negative for PFOA. Shumlin said that was already being studied. The good news: The system had sufficient water capacity to expand, but Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) noted that would require new equipment to boost water pressure.
One woman living on the edge of the testing circle asked if allergies were associated with exposure to PFOA. Dolan said she found no research suggesting such a link. Another resident asked about respiratory ailments, recounting the offensive emissions from the plant before it closed.
A woman asked what might be done to rid the environment of PFOA. Shumlin said the state has to first determine the scope of the problem — but long-term remedies will be investigated.
“What about property values?” another resident asked.
“Yes, it will be on our radar,” Shumlin said.
Shumlin wrapped up the session noting that state officials sent a list of demands to Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the company that ran the North Bennington plant, and operates similar plants in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. and Merrimack, N.H., where PFOA contamination has also been found.
So far, Shumlin said, the company has been responsive. “My goal is to have a very good relationship with them,” he said, but added he is prepared to use legal tools if necessary.
“There is nothing we can do to undo what has happened,” Shumlin said in closing, “but we will work with you to make the best of a horrid situation.”