Sections of a foundation slab are all that remain of a building that once stood on a parcel off Center Street in Pownal where PFOA contamination was found during testing. State environmental officials are pursuing potentially responsible parties, including General Cable Corp., to assist with further testing and any required cleanup work. Photo by Jim Therrien/VTDigger
POWNAL — Two potentially responsible parties have been identified relative to PFOA contamination at a Center Street site once used by the former Warren Wire Co.
Meanwhile, the Shaftsbury resident who purchased the parcel just prior to discovery of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) in Pownal linked to the former company said he finds himself “between a rock and a hard place.”
Owner Glen Matunas said this week that waiting for the state to take action against parties responsible for the pollution has stalled his planned new business — after he had spent thousands to obtain the necessary development permits.
Read VTDigger’s series on PFOA contamination in Bennington County.
The entities identified by the state Agency of Natural Resources as potentially responsible are General Cable Corp. and American Premier Underwriters. Both were associated with the main Warren Wire factory on Route 346 after Warren Wire’s Teflon-coating business was sold to General Cable during the mid-1960s.
“We have identified responsible parties in this situation [on Center Street] and have sent a letter requesting that they investigate and respond to releases that took place when they operated the facility,” Matt Chapman, general counsel to the ANR, said in an email.
Chapman said both parties “declined to take action.” The state agency has referred the matter to the Vermont Attorney General for enforcement.
Near homes, school, offices
The square, 2.48-acre parcel, which also borders on Route 7 and North Pownal Road, is near the town offices on Center Street, the Pownal Center Firehouse, a number of homes, a small mobile home park and a convenience store.
Located just east of Route 7 and within a half-mile of the site are Pownal Elementary School, Oak Hill Children’s Center and a larger mobile home park.
Initial testing last year of private wells in the surrounding area did not detect PFOA, according to an engineering report on the Center Street parcel. However, elevated levels of the chemical that has been associated with certain cancers and other medical conditions were measured on the parcel itself, in test wells there and in standing water in a wetlands area.
PFOA was discovered in 2016 in some private wells in Pownal and North Pownal village, and in the Pownal Fire District water system well off Route 346, located about 1,000 feet from the main former Warren Wire/General Cable factory. That property is roughly 3 miles southwest of the Center Street parcel.
Carbon filtering equipment, funded by American Premier Underwriters, was installed at that Route 346 well site, and a consultant is exploring long-term solutions to eliminate PFOA from the district system’s drinking water.
New business plan blocked
Matunas said he purchased the Center Street parcel, which Warren Wire never owned but apparently leased at one time, in October 2015 for just over $20,000. He subsequently spent more than double that amount, he said, on engineering, attorney fees and other costs in gaining permits to establish a seasonal ice cream restaurant.
“When I bought the property, I intended to put a Vermont country dairy bar there,” he said this week.
Matunas said he obtained wetlands protection and other permits, along with permission to drill a well. But during that process, “I started getting letters from the EPA and the DEC” concerning discovery of PFOA in groundwater around the former Warren Wire/General Cable factory, he said.
That followed similar discoveries of PFOA in drinking water supplies around factory sites in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and later in Bennington in early 2016.
Matunas said, after spending thousands of dollars on development costs, namely wetlands-related permitting, “I was left holding the bag.”
Now, he said, his hope is that the state can force the responsible parties to fund whatever cleanup will be required so he can construct a building on the site and drill a well. But Matunas said he fears that process will take several more years, during which it would make little sense for him to start construction.
Matunas said one fair solution might be a settlement in which he is paid by a responsible party for title to the land and also receives compensation for his expenses.
Further testing planned
Kimberly Caldwell, an environmental analyst with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the state will seek to have the responsible parties cooperate in further testing at the site and with any remediation that might be required.
What that might entail has yet to be determined through additional testing.
Caldwell and Trish Coppolino, an environmental program manager with the DEC, said tests conducted in Pownal Center in early 2017 did not detect the chemical in private wells located along Center Street, Route 7, and North Pownal Road.
H&S/Nobis Environmental, of Westborough, Mass., sampled test wells and took soil borings from the parcel and collected surface water samples, for a report requested by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and submitted in March 2017.
Those samples revealed PFOA in shallow test wells in concentrations above the state’s 20 parts per trillion standard for drinking water. The highest reading was 320 ppt, while other samples were 130 ppt and 56 ppt.
Two other test wells on the site were below the drinking water maximum, at 4.6 parts per trillion and 14 parts per trillion, respectively.
The highest reading found in the surface water was 28 ppt, while two other surface locations tested at 6 ppt and 3.5 ppt, respectively.
PFOA exposure, primarily through drinking contaminated water, has been associated in medical studies with several diseases and conditions, including high cholesterol, and high-blood pressure; ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and kidney and testicular cancer.
History of parcel
Although the remnants of a building foundation slab remain on the Center Street parcel, periodic aerial photographs of the site included in the environmental assessment show no structures after 1972, according to the H&S/Nobis Environmental report.
Initial development of the land occurred prior to 1942, according to the report, although the low-resolutions photos from the period did not reveal the nature of the development, only a structure of some kind.
By 1951, a structure is more clearly shown, and development continued through 1960, the report states, adding, “Between 1960 and 1972 aerial photographs, the on-site building was demolished, leaving a concrete pad (which remains). The property remains little-changed from the 1972 aerial photograph.”
State officials said it appears that Warren Wire never owned the parcel but leased it from approximately 1953 to 1957. It is unclear what type of operation or material storage occurred at the site, although it was once referred to by people familiar with the operation as “the Teflon shop.”
The H&S/Nobis Environmental report lists eight other owners of the parcel after 1932 prior to Matunas, including five private individuals or couples, a bank at one point and Modern Anodizing Corp., a former company with a factory in North Adams, Massachusetts. The former business is listed as the owner from 1963 to 1966.
Main factory on Route 346
Warren Wire operated at the Route 346 factory from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, when the company was sold to General Cable Corp. The business there focused on coating fabrics with Teflon, which was dried in a high-temperature process.
Principals in the Warren Wire business established ChemFab Corp. in Bennington in 1968 and produced similar Teflon-coated fabrics, primarily fiberglass, in operations at two locations in that town. The state in 2016 identified those factories as the source of PFOA contamination officials contend was spread over a wide area of Bennington through stack emissions.
ChemFab was acquired by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in 2000 and the local operation was moved to New Hampshire in 2002. That PFOA contamination was found in several hundred wells in Bennington, and the state is pursuing remediation funding from Saint-Gobain, including for extension of new municipal water lines to areas with contaminated private wells.
American Premier Underwriters, which assumed environmental liability for the Route 346 factory site when it was acquired by the current owner, Mack Molding, has hired Unicorn Management Consultants to oversee the response to contamination in that area of Pownal.
A Unicorn Management official reached by phone on Monday declined to comment on the Center Street site.
A General Cable spokeswoman said in an emailed response that the company would not comment.
Read the story on VTDigger here: State investigates another PFOA site in Pownal.