Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin visits North Bennington over water contamination issue


Photo Gallery | Gov. Peter Shumlin visits North Bennington

NORTH BENNINGTON — Gov. Peter Shumlin said he and state environmental and health officials will push to connect homes impacted by water contamination with the village and town public water systems.

Shumlin, who visited the village Tuesday morning, pledged his administration's commitment to have the water main extension and cleanup costs paid for by those responsible for the potentially harmful, man-made chemical recently found in private wells.

"We're going to require the company to make us whole again and will do everything we can to hold them accountable for getting us in this mess," Shumlin told a packed room at Bennington College's Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA).

The governor's stop in town marked the first time he visited the area since a man-mande chemical was found in the water two weeks ago.

The state has tested 135 private wells within 1.5 miles of the former ChemFab facility on Water Street, which has been identified as a potential contamination source. Officials with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will test additional wells, as well as water and sediment in nearby lakes, rivers and other water bodies this week, according to DEC Commissioner Alyssa Schuren. She said fish will be tested next week.

"Those tests will tell us a lot and we'll better understand the scope of this problem," she said.

Schuren said it's not known what entity is responsible for the contamination. Her agency is investigating what party, or parties, to hold accountable for costs related to cleanup.

The total cost of taking samples and sending them to be tested was an estimated $160,000 including the cost of the contracted services the state has brought on to help collect samples, according to DEC's Deputy Commissioner George Desch.

"We have not done a check on the cost of bottled water to date, since we are anticipating an arrangement wherein the contractor for the bottled water invoices Saint-Gobain directly, given their commitment to provide bottled water to the communities," Desch wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon.

Richard Spiese, hazardous sites manager for the state's Agency of Natural Resources, told the Banner that each test costs about $350 and must be sent to a lab in Wisconsin because few labs have the ability to run that kind of test.

PFOA, formerly used to make Teflon and linked to cause cancer, was found in a handful of wells that served private homes, as well as two not used for drinking at the landscaping business and the wastewater treatment plant.

The Saint-Gobain Corporation is paying for bottled water for residents. The company purchased ChemFab in 2000 and operated the Water Street site until closing it two years later. It also currently runs a facility in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., the village where the PFOA was found at high levels in the municipal water.

Shumlin spent roughly an hour touring the village Tuesday morning. He visited North Bennington Variety, one place where residents can pick up bottled water. He then walked the ChemFab site before visiting Pembroke Landscaping.

Shumlin noted to forum attendees that, unlike in Hoosick Falls, the public water systems in Bennington are not affected, meaning the state has a comparably easier way to bring clean water to residents.

"We know the hardship of living off of imported water can not last any longer than it has been," he said. He noted the relatively short distance water mains would be extended — for Pembroke Landscaping, it's less than 800 feet, he said.

State Sen. Dick Sears (D-North Bennington) said the added capacity from additional water users would require new equipment.

"We're at our limit now," he said. "To get it to Royal Street and other neighborhoods that don't have it will be a tremendous effort on your behalf — and hopefully on behalf of responsible parties."

Schuren said the DEC will be testing water and the sediment at Haran Creek, Lake Paran, the Wallomsac River, the Bennington College pond.

The agency is "trying to get its arms around the extent of the problem," she said. Officials will then need to look at how far the contamination has spread and whether to address it by a treatment method or to contain it to prevent it from spreading through more soil and groundwater.

An informational call line for residents concerned about PFOA contamination will be available on an ongoing basis, from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at 802-828-1038.

The Centers for Disease Control has agreed to conduct blood tests for residents. The state DOH is working with Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington to develop a blood sample collection process.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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