Known carcinogens found in wells serving Rutland businesses

Firefighters spray down a mock aircraft with foam. Foam used in a 1986 crash may be a source of the PFAS in the water. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton)
The Department of Environmental Conservation said on Friday that water from wells used by several businesses in the Rutland Airport Business Park has been found to contain known carcinogens.
Department officials said a likely source of the contaminants in the well water is the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport.
The contaminants were identified as belonging to a group of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Another member of the group is perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which was found to have contaminated wells in the Bennington area.
PFAS are a diverse group of compounds resistant to heat, water, and oil, widely used in industry and in the production of consumer goods such as carpeting, upholstery, and food wrap. They are a common ingredient of foam used in fire-fighting.
There are 10 tenants in the business park, said Richard Gile, president of the Airport Business Park Association, which owns the park. Two are manufacturers, Gile said. Other tenants include a book publisher, a company specializing in audio systems, and a cabinetry business.
Eight of the business park tenants draw their water from the contaminated wells, Gile said.
Of the 10 wells tested by the Department of Environmental Conservation, one was found to have concentrations of PFOA and a related compound called perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) exceeding the state limit of 20 parts per billion.
Other similar compounds — perfluoroheptanoic acid and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHpA and PFHxS, respectively) — were found in the same well and one other well, at levels between 34 and 53 parts per billion. The state of Vermont established statutory limits for PFOA and PFOS in 2016; no state limits are yet established for the other PFOS chemicals.
One of the affected businesses, the Vermont Country Store, has an on-site bakery that uses small amounts of water taken from one of the contaminated wells, said Geoff Brown, the company’s executive vice president.
State investigators found that recipes used so little well water that Vermont Country Store customers faced no health risk, Brown said. Even so, the country store began filtering its water immediately. Businesses also are being provided with bottled water until a long term solution is found.
The Department of Environmental Conservation is in the process of trying to pinpoint the source of the pollution. Monitoring wells will drilled to determine the extent of the underground plume of contamination.
Gile said he is “99 percent sure” that PFAS are not in use by any of the business park tenants.
A more likely source of the contamination is the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport, specifically the fire-fighting foam that is kept at the airport, and has been used on at least one occasion — on a plane that crashed at the airport in 1986.
“There’s no way to prove it for sure,” Giles said. “It could have been there for many years — nobody knows for sure. And nobody knows how long there’s been contamination in the water.”
Firefighters are required periodically to train with foam, said Chuck Schwer, Division Director of the Waste Management and Prevention Division of the DEC. Usually the foam used in training is PFAS-free, he said, but federal regulators do require occasional training with foam containing PFAS.
“It may turn out that it’s not coming from the airport,” Schwer said. “We suspect it is, but we really don’t know that yet.”
Also under investigation is what systems the airport has in place to keep runoff from the tarmac or elsewhere on airport property from getting into the groundwater or other public waters.
State Agency of Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said his records show that foam containing PFAS has been used at the airport only once, following the 1986 plane crash.
Flynn said the state transportation agency has yet to see evidence that the pollution originated at the airport. “We’ve not been shown any clear linkage,” Flynn said.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has been testing well water around the state, in areas of suspected PFAS pollution, an effort that began in early 2016, when wells in the town of Bennington were found to be contaminated with PFOA. The source of the PFOA in Bennington’s water was traced to a factory where the company ChemFab had for 30 years manufactured Teflon-coated fibreglass fabrics.
“Our knowledge of where those perfluorinated compounds are used grows every day,” Schwer said.
Bennington contains “by far” the greatest number of polluted wells of the sites tested in Vermont so far, Schwer said.
Water samples taken from six private wells around the airport, not located in the business park, showed no PFAS contamination, Schwer said.
A well used by the airport also showed no contamination, Flynn said.
Read the story on VTDigger here: Known carcinogens found in wells serving Rutland businesses.