Pownal PFOA filtering system enclosed; search for new water source continues

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POWNAL, VT — The water filtration system installed over the summer to remove the contaminant PFOA from the well supplying Pownal Fire District No. 2 was enclosed last week inside a newly erected building.

State environmental officials visiting the well site off Route 346 on Friday said additional monitoring wells also are being drilled around the area to further delineate the spread and concentrations of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) from the suspected source of the chemical — the nearby former Warren Wire/General Cable mill property.

In addition, according to Patrick Smart, drinking water operations supervisor with the state Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, efforts to find a permanent replacement well or other water source for the approximately 450 district customers is moving forward.

Smart and Danika Frisbie, outreach coordinator with the office of Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz, said the granular activated carbon filter system, which includes large steel tanks that had stood uncovered near the well head, is considered a temporary solution to PFOA contamination but will remain in place for the near future.

The long-term goal is to replace the well as the district's water source. That well had itself replaced a former privately owned reservoir-fed system in the 1990s, after changes in federal drinking water standards made meeting the standards too expensive for the small reservoir system.

The assets of the water system were transferred to the newly formed water district at that time, and a search for suitable well sites was conducted. The water system serves customers in the southern areas of Pownal, north of the Williamstown, Mass., line.

The level of PFOA contamination was discovered in Pownal in the spring, following similar discoveries in public and private wells in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., Petersburgh, N.Y., Bennington and North Bennington. Different industrial operations are considered the likely sources in those cases.

Both temporary and permanent solutions to PFOA well water contamination also are being pushed by the state concerning the Bennington and North Bennington properties affected.

In Pownal, Vermont issued a no-drink order for the water district in March, after levels of PFOA above the state's limit of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) were detected. Water was found to have levels of 26 and 27 ppt.

Unicorn Management Consultants of Danbury, Conn., which installed the filtering system, has been helping to look into possible new well sites, the state officials said. Smart said that process, which also has involved officials with the water district, generally takes at least 18 months.

The filtering system, however, has reduced the PFOA levels for water district customers below the state level, and Gov. Peter Shumlin, local lawmakers and Alyssa Schuren, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, visited the area this summer to formally announce that the no-drink order had been lifted.

American Premier Underwriters (APU), a successor firm to General Cable, agreed to pay for the filtering system, as well as cover other costs, like bottled water for residents and filters on private wells with levels higher than 20 ppt.

Earlier this year, the state announced that 92 private wells had also been tested in Pownal and North Pownal, and 73 had no detectable PFOA, while seven had levels above the Vermont limit and 12 had levels below 20 ppt.

More information on the testing and related remediation efforts can be found at http://dec.vermont.gov/commissioners-office/pfoa

Warren Wire started operating at the 10-acre industrial site — about 1,000 feet from the well head — in 1948. The factory was eventually sold to General Cable Co., which later became known as GK Technologies Inc. That firm was purchased in 1981 by a holding company for the Pennsylvania Central Corp. and subsequently changed its name to APU.

Mack Molding, the current owner, has primarily used the 120,000-square-foot structure as a warehouse.

Perfluorooctanoic acid, which was used in wire coatings and in consumer products and packaging, is suspected to have a link to cancers and other diseases, but the results of scientific studies thus far have differed. The levels that are considered safe to drink have been debated since the chemical began to be detected in water sources and in the blood of people exposed to it through drinking water, working in a factory that used PFOA or through other means.

The acceptable exposure levels set by various states also vary, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently set a 70 ppt standard for lifetime exposure.

Studies have shown that the chemical can be detected at some level in the blood of most Americans. Levels in blood also have been shown to slowly decline over a number of years.

Jim Therrien covers Southern Vermont news for the Bennington Banner and VtDigger.org.


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