MONTPELIER —A top state environmental official said Wednesday a fund being used to respond to the chemical contamination crisis in southwestern Vermont will likely be drained by the end of the year.
Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren told the House Fish and Wildlife Committee her department hopes to come up with recommendations for strengthening the fund by next year.
"That fund will run out essentially ... as early as the end of this year," she said.
And it could be stretched much further over time, as more is learned about other chemicals released into the environment with minimal oversight.
Schuren said the fund takes in about $290,000 a year from fees on companies that use toxic chemicals in the state, and also has some funds from settlements from polluters. Department projections show it needing an average of $3 million in each of the next five years.
The "environmental contingency fund" pays for things like the state's share of the costs of cleaning up old industrial sites deemed Superfund sites under federal law. The state pays 10 percent and the federal Environmental Protection Agency pays the rest.
Currently, the fund also is being used to respond to contamination in Pownal, in Vermont's southwest corner, by the industrial chemical PFOA — perfluorooctanoic acid, a suspected carcinogen.
The same chemical has been found in private wells in nearby North Bennington and Bennington. So far costs of the response at those sites are being picked up by Saint Gobain Performance Plastics, a company that operated in the area until 2002. Costs include bottled water for residents and installation of "point-of-entry treatment systems" for water coming to area homes and businesses.
PFOA, developed in the 1940s, has been used in making Teflon-coated products and is blamed for water contamination in several locations around the country, including in West Virginia, New York and New Hampshire.
Schuren told the committee that PFOA is one of nearly 100,000 chemicals that have been allowed onto the U.S. market without the sorts of safety reviews that pharmaceuticals get. She said the state supports legislation in Congress to reform the way the federal Toxic Substances Control Act operates to provide stronger reviews of new chemicals.
George Desch, deputy commissioner of Schuren's department, said in a later interview that the department's projections of the funds needs during the next five years cover only those currently known, and do not include situations like PFOA — chemicals determined to be toxic only decades after they have begun to be released into the environment.