Factory owner offers $4m for PFOA response

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NORTH BENNINGTON >> The company that owns the factory believed to have contaminated in North Bennington residential wells has pledged more than $4 million for water testing, bottled water and filtration, a state official said Thursday.

The state is asking the company for at least an estimated $10 million more to pay for new municipal water lines to replace the polluted wells.

The company, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, has not accepted responsibility for the contamination, which affects more than 100 households in the Bennington area, said Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren.

Saint-Gobain owns the former Chemfab factory in North Bennington and operated it between 2000 and 2002 before moving operations to New Hampshire.

This factory and the original Chemfab factory in Bennington are believed to be sources of the perfluorooctanoic acid contaminating residents' wells, according to state experts.

PFOA was used in the manufacture of Teflon products before the industry voluntarily phased it out by 2015.

Officials have not yet determined by what precise route the chemical apparently left the factories and found its way into drinking water and surface waters. But at other PFOA-contaminated sites in the United States, the chemical was introduced into the environment through factories' smokestacks, according to DuPont documents released in the course of a successful lawsuit against that company in West Virginia.

Saint-Gobain has promised to pay up to $650,000 for bottled water for affected residents, Schuren told the Senate Institutions Committee on Thursday. The company has also pledged to pay for $500,000 worth of water testing and analysis, along with $3 million for carbon filtration systems to treat contaminated wells.

The filters are meant to serve in the short term, but for the longer term Schuren said the state is "in conversations" with Saint-Gobain to persuade it to pay an estimated $10 million to connect residents whose wells are polluted to the municipal water supply. Schuren said the company has already committed to pay for engineering studies for the water lines.

DEC attorneys have said it's likely that statute would allow the state to force Saint-Gobain to pay for all necessary remediation, should upcoming tests determine positively that the chemical originated at the Chemfab factory.

Schuren said her office is in contact weekly with Saint-Gobain and that Gov. Peter Shumlin is having conversations with the company's chief executive every other week.

More than 100 residential wells in the North Bennington area contain PFOA in concentrations exceeding the state recommended maximum of 20 parts per trillion in water.

Four wells in Pownal, along with a municipal water supply serving 450 residents, have also been found to contain PFOA above the recommended limit. The toxicant is suspected to have come from the former Warren Wire factory there, which was founded by the same Vermont entrepreneur who started Chemfab. Both factories treated products with Teflon.

Schuren said that General Cable, the company that purchased Warren Wire, has not accepted responsibility for the water pollution in Pownal.

The state has tested 11 other sites around the state where Teflon is thought to have been used or manufactured. Immediate costs could run as high as several million dollars, according to DEC estimates. But the price tag could end up significantly lower than in the Bennington area, Schuren said, because most homes near those 11 other sites are already hooked to municipal water supplies.

Funding for these tests came from the state's environmental contingency fund, Schuren said, and her department is likely to use that fund's available $1.4 million before the year is through.

Although companies held responsible for the contamination will eventually be required to reimburse the state for expenses, Schuren said, until then the state will need to cover costs itself.

For 2016, the DEC will likely need to supplement its budget to cover these emerging costs, said Deputy Commissioner George Desch.

To better respond to similar incidents in the future, Schuren told the Institutions Committee that she'll be asking to bolster the environmental contingency fund when the new legislative session begins in January. The fund currently receives $290,000 yearly, Desch said.


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