State rejects Saint Gobain PFOA study

The former ChemFab plant in North Bennington is considered by state officials to be the source of PFOA contamination of groundwater supplies in a wide area around the factory. Photo by Ben Garver/Berkshire EagleBENNINGTON — State environmental officials have rejected the conclusions of an engineering report for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. The engineers claim PFOA pollution that has tainted soil and groundwater in the area didn’t come from two former teflon-coating plants.
Barr Engineering questions the extent to which perfluorooctanoic acid contamination came from two former ChemFab Corp. plants in town, especially in the eastern half of a contamination zone identified by the state.
For more context, read the series Teflon Town: ChemFab’s toxic legacy.
That section involves a railroad line and more than 150 private wells east of Route 7A that have been found to have unsafe levels of the industrial chemical.
The state disagrees with the Barr report and alleges that Saint-Gobain is responsible for all PFOA found in the contamination zone.
Saint-Gobain, the international firm that purchased the former plants in 2000 and is considered by the state the responsible party for the pollution, is negotiating with the Agency of Natural Resources over costs to address the contamination. The ongoing study will be a major factor in those talks.
The firm currently is funding up to $20 million in municipal water line extensions to provide clean water to about 200 properties in the western half of the local contamination zone, as stipulated in a consent agreement reached last year.
Chuck Schwer, director of the state’s Waste Management and Prevention Division, said Friday that the company’s final engineering report is due on March 15, after which Saint-Gobain and ANR representatives will discuss the results and try to reach agreement on how to address pollution the eastern sector.
Schwer added that nothing presented in the draft report has convinced agency officials that there were any other significant sources of PFOA in the area.
Assigning responsibility matters because ANR believes Saint-Gobain should agree to fund the next phase of the corrective response. Extension of water lines to that section is considered the best long-term solution available for nearly all of the affected properties.
The company has been “a good partner thus far” in addressing the contamination, Schwer said, but the next set of meetings in March should indicate “if they are willing to step up” and fund a permanent solution for residents of the eastern section. If no agreement can be reached, he said, the state is expected to “consider its legal options” to force the company to pay for a solution or recoup state expenses.
Air distribution models developed for the state show the PFOA that caused the unsafe levels in local wells emanated from former ChemFab exhaust stacks and settled over a wide area around the Water Street plant in North Bennington and an earlier Northside Drive factory in Bennington.
ChemFab was for many years a leader in coating of fiberglass fabrics with Teflon and infusing the thin, milk-colored liquid into the fabric and drying it at high temperature. PFOA is a component once used in the manufacture of Teflon and has been found in soils and water — and believed to exist in at least trace amounts in the blood of nearly all humans — around the world.
Elevated PFOA levels in the blood has been linked in studies to certain cancers and other illnesses or health conditions.
The Barr engineering report indicates that the trends in PFOA contamination in the area under study aren’t indicative of historical releases from the former ChemFab factories. The firm says the soil concentrations of the highly toxic chemical are generally consistent with background concentrations and show that there could be localized sources of related compounds.
The Agency of Natural Resources, in comments released Friday, found the Barr study to be flawed and disagreed with its conclusions. High concentrations of the chemical found in drinking water wells is not consistent with background contamination levels, state officials said.
The agency’s comments on the draft engineering report is here.
The most recent draft of the Barr Engineering report is here.
Read the story on VTDigger here: State rejects Saint Gobain PFOA study.