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State Reaches Settlement Over PFOA Contamination In Bennington

Gov. Phil Scott announced Tuesday that the state has reached a settlement with the company Saint-Gobain over the water contamination in Bennington.

The agreement paves the way for work to begin this fall to extend a municipal water line to about 200 homes.

Saint-Gobain owned the Chemfab factory in North Bennington that is suspected to have released the chemical PFOA, which contaminated about 270 private wells.

PFOA is an industrial chemical that has been linked to testicular cancer, high cholesterol and thyroid disease.

The state has been negotiating with Saint-Gobain for more than a year to get the company to pay for municipal waterline extensions to the contaminated properties.

And though the settlement only covers a portion of the area, the governor said in a press release said the state will continue working with the company.

“This agreement represents important progress to ensure the people of Bennington and North Bennington have clean, safe drinking water,” Scott said. "The entire state team stands together to continue working until long-term drinking water solutions are in place for the entire impacted area, but today is a critical step. I commend Saint-Gobain for continuing to work to resolve the remaining issues.”

The two sides have agreed to begin work on the area roughly west of the train tracks that run along Rt. 7A in Bennington.

The state and Saint-Gobain continue to discuss the possible sources of PFOA east of the railroad tracks.

Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke says the agreement allows crews to begin work during the 2017 construction season.

"We feel very confident that this is a great deal for the people of Bennington and North Bennington," Walke says. "It gets the actual construction work started as quickly as possible."

Walke says about 200 homes are covered by the partial agreement announced Tuesday and he says the additional studies that Saint-Gobain will fund will chart a path moving forward.

Following that investigation, the state will seek a similar funding commitment from Saint-Gobain and any other parties responsible for the presence of PFOA in the eastern portion of the impacted area. If the state is unable to secure such a commitment, officials said in a statement that they will use authority provided by Vermont law to pursue long-term drinking water solutions for all impacted residents.

“Clean drinking water is a human right,” said Attorney General Donovan. “Today’s announcement that Saint-Gobain has agreed to pay for a water line in parts of Bennington and North Bennington is a good first step. We are committed to working with the governor, our agency partners, and Bennington County’s legislative and community leaders to fight to get our neighbors in Bennington and North Bennington the clean water they deserve.”

“I want to thank the entire state team,” said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, on behalf of the legislative delegation. “All have worked tirelessly to come to this point. We would also like to thank our constituents for their patience and support during these difficult times. While significant work still needs to be done to bring long-term drinking water solutions to all residents, this is a significant milestone. We will all continue to press to make sure we achieve this result for everyone impacted.”

Since the contamination was discovered in North Bennington in February of 2016 Saint-Gobain has paid for bottled water and for the carbon filters that were installed inside the affected homes.

The filters were seen as a temporary solution, and Saint-Gobain president and CEO Tom Kinisky says the agreement marks the next step to resolve the ongoing crisis.

“Providing potable drinking water to citizens of Bennington and North Bennington has always been our shared goal,” Kinisky said. “The point-of-entry treatment systems that we have already voluntarily installed, and our funding of the planned water line extensions, show our commitment to achieving this outcome.”

The settlement agreement will be open for a 30-day public comment period.

State officials will be on-hand in Bennington and North Bennington on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the terms of the settlement.

Update 3:50 p.m. July 25, 2017 This post was updated throughout to include more information from the press release and interviews.

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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