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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

State Will Test Up To 100 North Bennington Wells For Contamination

Howard Weiss-Tisman
A well in Jeff Whitesell's North Bennington neighborhood tested positive for PFOA and now his family is drinking only bottled water. The state will be testing between 80 and 100 private wells as it tries to determine the extent of PFOA contamination.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Monday that the state will be testing between 80 and 100 private wells as it tries to determine just how far a potentially harmful chemical has spread in North Bennnington.

State officials have been scrambling since Thursday when the first tests came back showing elevated levels of the chemical PFOA in private wells in North Bennington.

Jeff Whitesell has a well, and his neighbor's well was one of those that tested positive for PFOA.

"Yeah, we're pretty concerned," Whitesell says. "We raised our children beginning age 8 here. And not knowing what the potential long term health effects are for our kids is very concerning."

The state tested six wells in North Bennington following reports in Hoosick Falls, New York that the chemical PFOA was found in wells throughout the small New York community.

The suspected source of the contamination in Hoosick Falls is the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant, where the chemical is widely used.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
The former Chemfab plant on Route 67A in North Bennington, where PFOAs were used before the plant closed in 2002.

Saint-Gobain owned the Chemfab plant in North Bennington before it closed in 2002, and PFOAs were also used at the North Bennington plant.

Starting this week, DEC officials will go door-to-door collecting water samples.

The tests have to be sent to labs out of state and take up to two weeks to complete, so for now Whitesell says his family will drink bottled water and wait.

"I hope they'll be standing by us and doing the right thing for us because we're victims in this. We just want clean water, you know." - Jeff Whitesell, North Bennington resident

"It seems like the state is on top of it and I applaud them for getting the word out early," he says. "I hope they'll be standing by us and doing the right thing for us because we're victims in this. We just want clean water, you know."

The state also began distributing free bottled water Monday and says in the coming days it will set up a delivery schedule to homes with private wells near the former Chemfab factory.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
J.J. Whitesell says its scary not knowing if his family's well is contaminated and what the long term health effects might be.

The Health Department said Monday that it was working with local doctors to provide guidance and the department says it's committed to arranging blood tests for people who have contaminated wells.

“If your well is contaminated, do not use the water for drinking, preparing food, cooking, or brushing teeth,”  Health Commissioner Harry Chen said in a press release. "We recommend that you talk with your health care provider to consider having the routine blood tests for health conditions that may be treatable now.”

The state has also released this PFOA fact sheet for North Bennington residents to reference.

PFOA does not break down in the human body and stays in blood for years after exposure. PFOA ingested over time could lead to health effects including liver toxicity, kidney damage, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, adverse effects on the reproductive system, immune system, infant and child development, and possibly some cancers, specifically testicular, prostate, thyroid and kidney cancer, according to the Department of Health.

Chen says his office is looking at cancer rates in North Bennington to see if they are higher than the rest of the state, but the data are not available at this time.

The state held an informational meeting Friday, and will be at the Bennington Town Meeting Monday night.


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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