The former ChemFab plant in North Bennington. File photo by Ben Garver/Berkshire Eagle
BENNINGTON — In a draft report posted recently, a consultant hired by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics backs up the company’s position that former ChemFab Corp. plants in Bennington might not be the sole source of PFOA contamination in the area.
However, state officials, who are reviewing the draft report’s thousands of pages, say they haven’t changed their position that the perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, found in soils and wells was a result of stack emissions from the former factories. Saint-Gobain acquired the plants in 2000 before moving the operations to New Hampshire two years later. RELATED STORIES
Negotiations between the company and state over responsibility are continuing, and state officials intend to update residents on that process during two meetings in Bennington on Tuesday.
The draft report from Barr Engineering involves an evaluation of soil and groundwater conditions in the state-identified PFOA contamination zone.
It will be supplemented by a pending update, based on test wells that were drilled around a former town landfill site that closed in the late 1980s and in nearby locations.
That drilling and related testing by the company’s consultants have focused on the eastern half of the contamination zone the state has identified around the former plants.
The Agency of Natural Resources and Saint-Gobain agreed in the fall to a settlement involving more than 200 properties in the western section of the zone. The company is funding $20 million in water line extensions and covering other costs to provide clean drinking water for those properties.
At the same time, the company agreed to a timeline and process for testing of wells, groundwater and soil in the eastern section and for a review by the ANR.
Elle O’Casey, communications director for the agency, said Friday, “Saint-Gobain must supplement the draft site investigation report with an analysis of the bedrock aquifer at the (former) Bennington landfill by Feb. 15, 2018. ANR will provide comments on the draft site investigation report, and Saint-Gobain must submit a final site investigation report by March 15, 2018, that addresses our comments.”
According to ANR general counsel Jen Duggan, after the site investigation Saint-Gobain must submit a plan to address PFOA, including a proposed drinking water remedy, no later than 90 days from ANR’s approval of the site investigation report if Saint-Gobain and the state reach agreement that Saint-Gobain is responsible for PFOA in this area.
“Saint-Gobain would then be required to perform corrective actions and provide the permanent drinking water remedy in accordance with a schedule approved by ANR,” Duggan said.
Duggan said that based on air modeling and initial groundwater sampling, the agency believes the PFOA in the eastern section of the contamination area was spread into the air from the Saint-Gobain facilities.
If no settlement can be reached, Duggan said, “the state will use all authority provided by Vermont law to pursue long-term drinking water solutions for all impacted residents.”
The eastern section of the zone contains about as many properties as the western section. State officials have pushed for extension of municipal water lines to the parcels as the best long-term solution for almost all of those with PFOA detected in well water.
Since the problem was discovered in early 2016, the company also has supplied bottled water and/or on-site filtering systems designed to remove PFOA to below 20 parts per trillion, the state’s threshold for drinking water.
Community updates planned
Meanwhile, the water line extensions in the western section are due to resume in the spring. On Tuesday, state officials have scheduled community update sessions focusing on each zone section separately.
From 5 to 6:30 p.m., a meeting at the Old First Church barn will address issues relating to the eastern sector. A meeting at Tishman Hall on the Bennington College campus from 7 to 8 p.m.
will address issues related to the western section, where water line work is underway.
The draft report for Saint-Gobain in part assessed hydrogeologic conditions in the zone, evaluated potential impacts from the former landfill and Superfund site off Houghton Lane, and sought to identify other potential sources of contamination in the area.
The report states in part that testing indicated possible other sources of contamination.
John Schmeltzer, state Department of Environmental Conservation project manager, said of the draft report, “(Saint-Gobain) haven’t really changed their position. They are further making their case.”
But nothing reviewed so far has led state environmental officials to change their view that the PFOA contamination emanated from ChemFab stack emissions, which entered the soil and groundwater. “That is still our position,” he said.
That doesn’t mean officials won’t be conducting a thorough review of the consultant’s report, Schmeltzer said, and the state will be assisted by an outside consultant of its own.
Read the story on VTDigger here: Saint-Gobain consultant says tests point to PFOA sources elsewhere.