Shumlin, Brockovich to address Bennington water issue

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NORTH BENNINGTON>> Gov. Peter Shumlin will visit town on Tuesday to meet with locals and officials about the water contamination issue, his office announced Friday.

Shumlin's announcement came hours after a law firm with ties to consumer advocate and environmentalist Erin Brockovich announced it added North Bennington to its investigation into a potentially harmful, man-made chemical found in water samples.

Shumlin will meet with officials and residents to discuss the issue on Tuesday, March 8, according to the governor's appearance schedule, which was released late Friday afternoon.

It will be the first time Shumlin will personally visit the area since perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical linked to cancer, was found in water samples taken in the village of North Bennington late last month.

It was unclear at press time Friday exactly when and where Tuesday's meeting will take place. A spokesperson for Shumlin's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

"No one should have to worry about the safety of the water they drink," Shumlin said in a statement. He thanked residents affected by PFOA in their wells for their patience. He also said the state would remain vigilant in testing private wells, would continue providing bottled water and would address their health concerns. "We will be there for those impacted until the situation is resolved."

News that PFOA was also found in New Hampshire is concerning, Shumlin said. He said he spoke with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and expressed the state's willingness to work with its neighbor.

The state has tested 123 wells for PFOA since Tuesday, according to Shumlin's office. Investigators with the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are going door-to-door to homes within a 1.5 mile radius around the former ChemFab plant at 1030 Water St., North Bennington. It's within that radius where residents are being told not to drink or cook with the water. The village and town public water system is not affected.

Chronic exposure to PFOA, once used to make the nonstick coating Teflon, has been linked to testicular, kidney and pancreatic cancer, as well as thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

New York City law firm Weitz & Luxenberg is the legal team for Brockovich, who was portrayed by Julia Roberts in a 2000 biographical film carrying her name. <URL destination="http://www.benningtonbanner.com/localnews/ci_29556558/lawsuit-filed-over-hoosick-falls-n-y-water">The firm recently launched a class-action lawsuit against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. and Honeywell International Inc. on behalf of Hoosick Falls, N.Y. residents, alleging drinking water containing PFOA for years made them sick.

</URL>"We are undertaking this independent investigation to understand why this has occurred and the ways in which residents have been harmed," Robin Greenwald, head of the firm's Environmental, Toxic Tort & Consumer Protection litigation unit, said in prepared remarks Friday. "We will be talking to residents about their legal options and to the authorities about how the ongoing contamination can be stopped."

The firm is also investigating PFOA in Petersburgh, N.Y.

"We are facing a water contamination crisis across our country," Brockovich said in a statement. "North Bennington is the latest in a long line of communities who can no longer trust the most basic necessity of life. I hope this investigation will help residents understand more about the size and scale of the problem."

<URL destination="http://www.benningtonbanner.com/localnews/ci_29454370/erin-brockovich-hoosick-falls-n-y-residents-everyone">Brockovich spoke at Bennington College in January.

</URL>Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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