The state will expand its testing for PFOA contamination to locations in Chittenden County where the chemical may have been used in manufacturing processes, and to two sites where fire-fighting foam has been used repeatedly.
The chemical, a possible carcinogen, has already been detected in dozens of private drinking water wells in North Bennington, the former home to a plant that used PFOA to make Teflon products. Subsequent tests found amounts exceeding the state’s standard of 20 parts per trillion in a creek and a pond near the closed plant. A municipal water source in Pownal showed PFOA levels of 26 parts per trillion, slightly above the guideline set by the Department of Health.
Alyssa Schuren, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said her staff researched the industries in Vermont that might have used PFOA to make Teflon, wire coatings or nonstick fabrics. The state plans to coordinate testing of ground and drinking water at and around each of the 11 sites they identified, Schuren said. The federal Environmental Protection Agency will pay for most of the testing.
The sites are: Champlain Cable (Colchester), Harbour Industries and unaffiliated former Harbour Industries sites (Shelburne, Colchester), Super-Temp Wire & Cable (South Burlington, Winooski), Belden Wire and Cable (Essex, Williston), the Vermont Fire Academy (Pittsford), and the Vermont Air National Guard base (South Burlington). Tests will be done as well at wells that IBM still monitors at its former plant in Essex Junction, which has been obtained by GlobalFoundries. Also on the list is Phoenix Wire in South Hero, Grand Isle County.
Samples will be taken from monitoring wells in locations that have them. In other places, Schuren said, the samples will come from private wells at or around the sites.
If any samples show PFOA at levels above 20 parts per trillion, Schuren said, the state would expand testing to a one-mile radius and make water available to those within the testing circle.
Schuren said all the businesses are cooperating.
She noted that Vermont never had a lot of heavy manufacturing, so widespread contamination is unlikely. Thirteen municipal water systems — including those in Burlington, South Burlington, Rutland, Barre and Bennington — have been tested, and no PFOA was detected. Ten of those were part of a random testing protocol sponsored by the EPA. Three municipal systems — in Arlington, Pittsford and St. Johnsbury — recently paid to have their water tested.
The DEC has yet to determine how PFOA got into private wells, a pond and streams around the closed plant in North Bennington, Schuren said. “We are still considering all pathways,” she said, such as smokestack emissions or ground contamination.
The North Bennington plant closed in 2002, but a similar facility in nearby Hoosick Falls, N.Y., owned by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, remains open. The municipal water near the New York plant is contaminated with PFOA.
Saint-Gobain has paid for bottled water, testing and water filtration systems in the North Bennington area. Schuren said the state is negotiating with the company about paying to connect some North Bennington residents to a municipal water supply, state staff costs and blood testing that the Department of Health plans to offer residents.