PFOA Contamination In Pownal Could Drain Vermont's Cleanup Funds

Apr 1, 2016
Originally published on April 1, 2016 12:04 pm

The recent discovery of the suspected carcinogen PFOA in a public water supply in Pownal could end up costing the state a lot of money.

The state has been putting its efforts into dealing with widespread water contamination in North BenningtonAnd now they've got another crisis in nearby Pownal.

The multinational corporation Saint-Gobain previously owned the factory in North Bennington, which is the suspected source of the contamination, and the company has been paying for water tests and carbon filters. But it's a lot less clear who's responsible for the Pownal contamination.

Chuck Schwer is director of hazardous waste management and prevention at the Department of Environmental Conservation. And for the second time in less than a month, he's setting up an emergency response station in a small Vermont community and trying to track down where the private wells are.

That's because a public water source in Pownal is contaminated with a slightly elevated level of PFOA, the same suspected carcinogen that's been found in North Bennington.

Recently, Schwer was at the Pownal Rescue Squad, trying to find out if a woman's house needs to be tested.

"So if you leave here and you head south, do you go just past Bee Hill?" he asks. "So you're over here somewhere?"

The water testing costs money, so Schwer and his team are looking into long range solutions, like extending safe public drinking supplies from nearby Williamstown, Massachusetts, or from another public water supply in Pownal.

But that will also cost a lot of money.

Alyssa Schuren, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, says the state has to spend its own money on the water tests.

"Right now, we are looking into who the responsible party might be," Schuren says. "So we hope to find a responsible party in the near future. In the meantime, the state will be spending its own resources to do the water sampling as needed."

In Pownal, Schuren says the state is focusing in on the former Warren Wire company as the source of the PFOA contamination.

But in the 1960s, Warren Wire was sold to another company, which has since been sold to a third company.

And if there was illegal dumping 50 years ago, it could be very hard to prove who was at fault.

Schuren says the Environmental Protection Agency will help cover some of the costs associated with the water tests in Pownal.

She told lawmakers this week that a special environmental contingency fund that is being used to address the water crisis will be drained by the end of this year.

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