Gov. Phil Scott with (from left) Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke and Bennington County Senators Dick Sears and Brian Campion.
Vermont officials announced a deal Wednesday that will bring clean water to hundreds of Bennington-area homes that have had their wells poisoned by perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA.
The toxins in the groundwater were discovered in early 2016 in private drinking wells near a defunct manufacturing plant once operated by the company Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. Gov. Phil Scott announced Wednesday that the company has agreed to pay millions of dollars to extend municipal water lines to 245 homes on the east side of Bennington.
State taxpayers will pay about $4.7 million to extend municipal water lines up sparsely populated roads on the outskirts of town, officials said, but Saint-Gobain’s contribution could be as much as $20 million.
Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke said the company has also agreed to pay for ongoing PFOA monitoring in Bennington-area drinking water and to pay for treatment systems and new wells for about 20 residences where municipal water lines won’t reach.
The deal announced Wednesday expands on a 2017 deal in which Saint-Gobain agreed to fund temporary water filtration in Bennington homes and promised to pay for most of the cost of municipal water line extensions in North Bennington and the western side of town. The municipal water supply in Bennington was not contaminated.
PFOA is used in the manufacture of nonstick materials such as Teflon cooking pans. According to the American Cancer Society, the chemical has been identified as potentially carcinogenic, though the science is inconclusive.
Scott said the new deal is a major milestone in Vermont’s work to address the contamination everywhere it’s found.
“This agreement means the construction on this phase of the multiyear project can begin this summer,” Scott said at a Statehouse press conference Wednesday.
According to Scott, the state has now ensured a municipal water connection for 470 homes and businesses in Bennington and North Bennington.
By sealing the deal, Attorney General T.J. Donovan said state government made good on its promise to serve Vermonters in need.
“We were guided by one principle in this case: That access to clean drinking water is a basic human right, and the people of Bennington County deserve it,” Donovan said.
Both Donovan and Walke commended Saint-Gobain for collaborating with state officials to reach an agreement, adding that a court proceeding would have been much slower and more costly, potentially resulting in years of delay for Bennington residents waiting for clean tap water.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Donovan said he supports S.37, a Senate-passed bill that would hold companies liable for the release of harmful toxins. Scott vetoed a similar bill last year.
State and elected officials were all in agreement Wednesday that the Saint-Gobain agreement is good news for Bennington residents, though they acknowledged that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“This is multiple miles of drinking water line extensions, so we expect it to be two years” before the work is completed, Walke said.
Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) lauded the state response. He thanked a group of Agency of Natural Resources staff, standing behind the podium at the governor’s press conference, who have worked for years to get clean water to everyone in Bennington.
“Those folks stood in the streets talking to constituents about what we could do, what they were going up against, they answered questions, got bit by a goose — the list goes on and on,” Sears said as the staffers chuckled knowingly behind him.
“It’s true,” one of them said.
Walke said Saint-Gobain will pay for PFOA monitoring indefinitely and will be responsible for fixing future contamination that emerges in other drinking wells.