Permanent filtering system proposed as solution to PFOA pollution

The enclosed carbon filtering system, to the left of the Pownal Fire District 2 wellhead, off Route 346, has been seen as temporary. Photo by Jim Therrien/VTDigger
POWNAL — With negotiations over a site for a replacement well seemingly stalled, the consultants responsible for helping tiny Fire District 2 secure a new safe water source have proposed instead the installation of a permanent carbon filtering system to reduce the level of the pollutant perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, in town drinking water.
Unicorn Management Consultants proposed the permanent filtering option to the water district board at a Feb. 26 meeting. Board members responded with immediate skepticism, saying that the consultants had yet to exhaust the options for a new well site.
Unicorn Management was hired in 2016 after the water in the district’s well, located on Route 346, was found to have levels of PFOA above 20 parts per trillion, the state’s advisory level for drinking water.
State environmental officials pinpointed as the source of the contamination the site of the former Warren Wire and General Cable factories, about 1,000 from the district well.
In the 1940s, Warren Wire and General Cable both used Teflon coatings, known at the time to contain PFOA, in manufacturing.
The insurance company American Premier Underwriters assumed environmental liability for the site when it was sold to its current owner, Mack Molding, which has used it primarily as warehouse space.
Following the discovery of the PFOA the insurer paid for the installation of a carbon filtering system as a temporary solution during the search for a site for a new well. The insurer also is funding the search for the replacement well.
A suitable replacement site has been identified, and preliminary drilling tests conducted, on a Christmas tree farm on the west side of the Hoosic River. But the owner and the consultants have not reached an agreement, and appear not even to have negotiated.
The size of the parcel, and the cost, appear to be the sticking points, according to correspondence among Unicorn Management, water board members, and the state of Vermont, and sources familiar with the matter.
Unicorn Management has said four acres of land are needed for the well site. The offer by Terry Pollert, the owner of the Christmas tree farm, includes an additional 18 acres, at a cost of $492,500. Pollert’s offer says the extra acreage is to account for a required wellhead buffer zone, easements for water lines, roads and other factors that would limit the farm’s ability to use the 22-acre parcel.
In an email to the district board in December, Unicorn Management’s Francisco Trejo called Pollert’s proposal “quite unreasonable.”
Water district board members called out the consultants at the Feb. 26 briefing for their failure to make a counter offer.
Board members also rejected the proposed alternative, a permanent carbon filtering system, especially as it appears the district’s 140 ratepayers would assume most of the system costs after three years.
“Three years is not enough,” board member Sharon Nichols said.
Michael Smith, another board member, told Unicorn Management’s Michael O’Connor that any solution to the contamination should be the responsibility of the insurer “for the life of the well.”
“We are not interested in walking away,” O’Connor replied. “We are here to help you.”
Nichols told O’Connor that she had spoken personally to Pollert. The farmer “threw out his highest number,” she said, “but nobody came back with another.”
Neither Pollert nor O’Conner could be reached for comment Friday.
The state also is involved in finding a solution to Pownal’s water problems. Tim Raymond, who is chief of the Operations and Engineering Section of the state’s Public Drinking Water Program, told O’Connor that the proposed improvements to the filtering system would not meet Vermont water supply standards.
Raymond also told O’Connor that if a replacement well were no longer an option, the insurer “account for the full construction improvement costs for the provision of a permanent [filtering] system, including operation and maintenance life-cycle costs for the water system for the duration of time where the well will be impacted by PFOA and/or PFOS.”
In an email, sent to the board and the consultants, Trish Coppolino, an environmental program manager with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, reminded both that “Negotiations on how long [Unicorn Management] will be responsible for the current water system is not something that happens between UMC and the Fire District. This is something that is approved by the DEC through a corrective action plan.”
“I think it’s premature to say one solution is better than another,” Coppolino said on Friday.
Even if a new well site is secured, board members learned at the Feb. 26 briefing, further testing will be required, not only to determine operating costs, but also to confirm the site is suitable. Mark Youngstrom, of Otter Creek Engineering, which is conducting the search for a new well site, said at this point “there are too many variables.”
Further testing, to confirm any site is appropriate for a public water supply, would require permission of the land owner. State officials have said testing would be conducted for inorganic chemicals, volatile organic chemicals, synthetic organic chemicals, radiochemicals and other substances.
Read the story on VTDigger here: Permanent filtering system proposed as solution to PFOA pollution.