MONTPELIER — State officials say investigating contamination by a possible carcinogen in private wells in North Bennington is expected to cost around $50,000, which will be paid for by the company believed to be responsible.
Gov. Peter Shumlin and other state officials announced the discovery of Perfluorooctanoic, or PFOA, on Feb. 25. Officials believe the chemical originated from a now-closed factory on Route 67A in North Bennington. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics purchased the former ChemFab site in 2000 and closed it in 2002.
The same chemical was found in nearby Hoosick Falls, N.Y., where Saint-Gobain still operates a factory. In New York, PFOA, which is used to manufacture non-stick coatings such as Teflon, was discovered in the public water supply. The New York discovery prompted the testing in Vermont.
In North Bennington, three private residential wells that were tested showed levels of PFOA ranging from 40 parts per trillion to 2,880 parts per trillion, according to the Shumlin administration. A business in the area, Pembroke Landscaping, has a well that showed PFOA levels of 168 parts per trillion. A public wastewater treatment plant, which is not used for potable water, showed PFOA levels of 618 parts per trillion.
The state is now planning to test all wells within a 1.5 mile radius of the factory site. Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said 135 wells are expected to be tested. In the meantime, bottled water has been made available to residents in North Bennington.
The cost to analyze samples from each well will cost $350 per well, according to Coriell. The total cost for all 135 wells will amount to $47,250, but that only includes the analytical portion of the test. Additional costs will be incurred for gathering the samples, he said. The state has not yet been billed for the testing.
“Saint-Gobain is paying for the test and the bottled water,” Coriell said.
Saint-Gobain spokeswoman Dina Pokedoff said the company has agreed to pay for the cost of bottled water and the cost and installation of filtration systems at affected homes and businesses. Company officials have told state officials they will cover the cost of testing.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren said Saint-Gobain is working directly with residents on filtration systems whose wells test positive.
“We won’t get any bills on the filtration systems … because that’s the company working directly with the residents,” she said. ‘We aren’t involved in that.”
In an email Monday, Pokedoff said the company will continue to work with state officials while they investigate the contamination.
“We will cooperate with all local, state and federal officials as they investigate and manage this issue and explore options to support those affected,” she wrote.
David Barber, who lives in one of the homes that tested positive in initial tests, said his filtration system was installed by a local contractor.
“It’s in. They installed it last Friday. He said it would probably take a month … to make sure everything is working right,” Barber said. “I assume the company must have paid for the filtration.”
Over the next month Barber said he will continue to consumer water from the five-gallon jugs delivered on a regular basis. “You don’t have to pick it up, which I think is a great thing,” he said.
Barber commended the state for its response, saying it “seems to be right on top of stuff.”
The state has contracted with W.B. Mason to deliver potable water to affected residents. Schuren said that bill will be sent to Saint-Gobain when it is received.
State officials have not yet officially determined the origin of the PFOA detected in initial tests. Schuren and other DEC officials have said they believe it is from the former factory.
The state has incurred other expenses as part of its response to the contamination. Coriell said DEC officials have stayed in hotel rooms in the North Bennington area while addressing the situation. The governor’s office has not yet discussed having those costs paid for by the company, according to Coriell.
“We’ve been worried about responding,” he said. “We’ll worry about how to divvy up the cost afterwards.”
DEC does have contingency funds available to respond to such situations. Schuren said it is too soon to know how much the state’s response will cost.
“The fact is, we’ve been spending all of our time on the response and not on tallying up the cost at this point,” she said.
Shumlin will make his first visit to North Bennington on Tuesday. The governor is planning to tour the area, including impacted homes, the former ChemFab plant and water distribution locations. He will also take part in a community meeting with affected residents.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has a guidance level of 400 parts per trillion of PFOA. That is significantly higher than the safe standard of 20 parts per trillion set by the state. Officials say PFOA can be harmful if ingested but it is not absorbed through the skin if present in water used for washing.
According to its website, Saint-Gobain has more than 265 locations across North America with about 15,000 employees. The company reported U.S. and Canadian sales of about $6.2 billion in 2014.