As the search for PFAS contamination widens in Bennington, residents wonder what’s next
State environmental officials have found toxic PFAS chemicals in another neighborhood in Bennington.
It’s been about seven years since the so-called forever chemicals, which have been linked to human health problems, were discovered in a neighborhood in North Bennington.
And now the state is trying to find out just how widespread this newly discovered contamination, about five miles to the south, might be.
Caitlin Mathers read about the recent water testing results in the newspaper, and was surprised to discover that the contaminated area was just down the hill from where she lives.
Before getting the troubling news, Mathers thought she and her husband had found the perfect home in a residential neighborhood near the hospital in Bennington.
“We love the location,” she said on a recent afternoon in the couple’s dining room. “It’s close to work for me. It’s close enough to town to be able get to things that we want, but it’s quiet. We have great neighbors. It’s in a good school system.”
Mathers and her husband Guy deBros considered themselves lucky to find such a nice place in the red-hot real estate market, and they moved in this summer.
The home, along a quiet cul-de-sac in a neighborhood of other homes with backyards and garages, was supposed to be a place the young couple could settle down and raise a family.
So when they found out that some of the private wells just down the hill tested positive for PFAS, it kind of shook their world.
“I’m very worried, to be honest,” she said. “I believe the long-term health consequences are my biggest concern. We are hoping to start a family, so the effects on a child would be concerning, as well as ourselves in the long term.”
PFAS are a group of chemicals that were widely used in products such as nonstick cookware, wire coating, Teflon fabric, carpeting, and food packaging such as pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags.
When environmental and health officials first discovered them in private wells in Bennington in 2016, there wasn’t even a drinking water standard because so few people in the state had ever heard of the chemicals.
Since then, PFAS contamination has become a national crisis.The chemicals have been discovered in water, and in people’s blood, all over the country.
The National Institutes of Health says the chemicals can be linked to liver disease, cancer, adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes, and thyroid problems.
Mathers and deBros are hoping to have their water tested soon, and until then they're trying to get used to the possibility that their water might be contaminated.
“The other day we boiled something,” deBros said. “We were making ravioli, and after we ate it we were like, ‘Wait a minute. We should have used bottled water to boil it.’”
“It’s a learning curve to remember,” Mathers added.
“I’m very worried, to be honest. I believe the long-term health consequences are my biggest concern. We are hoping to start a family, so the effects on a child would be concerning, as well as ourselves in the long term.”Caitlin Mathers, Bennington resident
The prior contamination in Bennington was centered around a former factory that baked Teflon coating onto fabric. And it was always clear how the wells became contaminated.
For decades the company, Chemfab, sent plumes of toxic smoke up into the air, and it dropped to the ground among a few neighborhoods downwind.
The company that owned the plant, Saint Gobain, settled with the state and paid for extensions of the town’s waterline to bring clean water to the contaminated properties.
This time, the source of the contamination — and the size of the area with poisoned wells — is not so clear.
And so at a recent meeting in Bennington, Department of Environmental Conservation hazardous site manager Richard Spiese said the state had some work to do to figure out the source of the contamination.
“There were many factories that used PFAS, and Bennington has had no shortage of factories,” Spiese told the crowd. “So we have to start diving into, you know, were there wire coaters? Were there metal platers? We’ll do a full search to figure out if there were other factories that maybe used these chemicals.”
Spiese doesn’t think this new patch of contamination is from the Saint Gobain factory because the type of PFAS in the water is different from what was found in North Bennington.
There are two former landfills nearby, Spiese said, which are also potential sources.
"It's kind of a shock, especially those who have been living there for a while, I’m sure you kind of feel safe in our community, and then when you kind of get that, you have poisoned water so to speak. It kind of rocks your world.”Jessica Marlow, Bennington resident
Jessica Marlow lives in the neighborhood where the PFAS has turned up and she came out to the meeting to get some answers.
“I’m concerned because it’s affecting our whole neighborhood,” Marlow said. “We have kids. You know, it’s kind of a shock, especially those who have been living there for a while, I’m sure you kind of feel safe in our community, and then when you kind of get that, you have poisoned water so to speak. It kind of rocks your world.”
There are 12 homes in Bennington so far that have traces of PFAS above the state’s safe drinking water standard.
And another dozen or so with traces of the chemical under the state’s standard.
Erica Babson’s well has more than double what the state says is safe, and her family has been using bottled water for the past few weeks.
“Pretty much all the neighbors ended up in contact with the same person, and they came down and started testing wells,” Babson said. “And then we received our notification in the mail of what our levels were. And, you know, not to use it, which I have a vegetable garden in the backyard; not to water my garden, not to brush our teeth, not to boil vegetables, or any cooking. Um, we’re concerned.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation originally said it would test about 30 wells directly near the recently discovered contamination.
But then a new well result showed PFAS contamination, and now the state says it wants to test 80 or 90 wells across southern Bennington.
The state hopes to being that round of testing in late October, and the results should be available sometime in December.
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