State officials announced Wednesday that two new sites in Chittenden County have tested positive for groundwater pollution with an industrial chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.
The chemical was found in the ground water at the IBM plant in Essex Junction, and the former Hercules Incorporated manufacturing facility now owned by Champlain Cable in Colchester. State officials have tested 11 sites this summer where companies manufactured semiconductors or wire and cable coatings. Both manufacturing processes involve perfluorinated compounds such as PFOA.
Tests showed PFOA levels of up to 7,200 parts per trillion at Champlain Cable — 360 times the 20 parts per trillion maximum concentration allowed by state law.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has been testing wells and water supplies near industrial facilities for PFOA contamination. The toxic chemical has been found in nearly 200 residential wells in North Bennington, a municipal water supply in Pownal, an underground storage tank at the Pittsford Fire Academy and a groundwater collection trench at the Air National Guard Base in South Burlington.
Alyssa Schuren, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said that there is little risk of exposure to homeowners in Essex and Colchester. Unlike those in North Bennington, where residents likely drank water from contaminated wells for years, homeowners near the former IBM plant in Essex use a municipal drinking water system. In Colchester, there are fewer than 10 wells within a mile of the former Hercules plant, and six are used for manufacturing, rather than for drinking water.
The state is still awaiting results from the former Harbour Industries property in Shelburne, but drinking water wells nearby returned test results in June that showed no PFOA contamination.
The former IBM plant site returned tests results showing PFOA concentrations between 8 and 190 parts per trillion in eight monitoring wells out of 15 tested. Testing downstream of the plant indicated that the contamination remains confined to the IBM property, officials said.
All 12 of the wells sampled at the Hercules site contained PFOA, in concentrations between 77 and 7,200 parts per trillion. A single monitoring well outside the Hercules facility's property boundary returned negative results.
Chuck Schwer, director of the Department of Environmental Conservation's waste management division, said the state will ask IBM and Kentucky-based Ashland Inc. to pay for cleanup costs. Ashland purchased Hercules in 2008 for $3.3 billion.
While the state could name both Global Foundries and Champlain Cable as responsible parties, Schwer said the department has "no intention right now of going after Champlain Cable or Global Foundries, because we have two responsible parties."
The current occupant of the former Hercules factory, Champlain Cable, did not cause the contamination, Schuren said. Champlain Cable, a wire and cable manufacturer founded in 1955, won recognition last year from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce as the Deane C. Davis Outstanding Vermont Business of the Year.
Global Foundries acquired the IBM plant last year, but only owns the structures on the site. IBM retained ownership of the land, according to Jim Keller, Global Foundries' communications director for the Essex Junction facility.
Keller said the site had a long history, and said he doesn't know precisely where the PFOA contamination came from. Global Foundries has not used the chemical in manufacturing processes.
A permeable barrier beneath the contaminated soil at the Global Foundries site is designed to funnel water through a reactive substrate that binds contaminants. The barrier is designed to prevent hazardous materials from reaching the groundwater. Schwer said more tests will be conducted to determine if PFOA has leached through the barrier.
State officials say IBM transported chemicals through a network of underground pipelines, some of which leaked. A chemical spill in the 1980s led the state to declare it a hazardous waste cleanup site. There have been additional spills since, Schwer said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed IBM as the state's top polluter.
The Champlain Cable factory sits on one of the oldest hazardous waste sites in the state, Schwer said. The location where PFOA was discovered in the greatest concentrations sits "right next to" what Schuren described as "a pit," where state investigators are now focusing their attention, she said.
"We're investigating whether chemicals were disposed of historically in that pit," Schuren said.
The state is asking anyone with a private drinking well within a one-mile radius of either site to contact the Department of Environmental Conservation at 802-828-1138. The former Hercules plant is located at 175 Hercules Drive in Colchester, and the IBM site is at 1000 River Street in Essex Junction.