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More North Bennington Wells Show PFOA Contamination

Howard Weiss-Tisman
The Vermont Department of Health opened a PFOA information center in downtown Bennington Saturday after testing revealed widespread contamination among homes near the former Chemfab factory.

The first round of water test results from North Bennington are in and they show widespread contamination among homes near the former Chemfab factory.

The state received lab results from 34 private wells late Friday.

Department of Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren says 29 of those tests showed levels of the suspected carcinogen PFOA that were above the acceptable level set by the state.

"When we took the samples, initially we started closest to the former Chemfab facility and we worked out from there," Schuren says.  "And so a lot of the initial tests we're getting back are closest to the facility, and so one would expect these to be the highest results. Right now we're working to overlay the test results on a map, but our initial review is showing that we're seeing some of the contamination in every direction."

The PFOA levels in the samples ranged from 38 parts per trillion, to 2,270 parts per trillion. 

The Vermont Department of Health considers 20 parts per trillion to be an acceptable amount of PFOA in drinking water, according to the release.

Schuren says she expects to receive more tests throughout this week, and she says the state will begin testing soil in the area as well.

Vermont environmental officials have been racing to test private water wells near the shuttered North Bennington Chemfab plant since late last month, when water tests first revealed PFOA in five private wells. The town's public drinking water supply has been tested and is not affected, the state says. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, was used to bind protective, waterproof, or non-stick coatings and other chemicals to surfaces. 

As of Saturday afternoon, the governor’s office said about 185 wells had already been sampled from within a 1.5-mile radius of the former Chemfab plant, which used PFOA to affix protective coatings to cloth. The plant closed in 2002.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation were going door to door Saturday morning and making phone calls to tell residents about the results, and to answer questions, according to the release. The state will also host a community meeting to discuss the results at 6 p.m. March 16, at the Village School of North Bennington.

The state has also opened a local “information center” at the Vermont Department of Health offices, at 324 Main Street, Bennington. The center is open this weekend from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., according to the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, people affected by the chemical contamination continue to receive deliveries of bottled water, paid for by Saint-Gobain, the company that owned the former Chemfab plant.

Alex was a reporter and host of VPR's local All Things Considered. He was also the co-host and co-creator of the VPR program Brave Little State.
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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