‘Don’t Drink the Water:’ Tainted Public Water Discovered in Vermont

Health officials in Vermont have described PFOA as an "emerging contaminant"

Some residents of a southern Vermont town are using only bottled water for cooking and drinking, following the discovery of low levels of a chemical in a municipal drinking water supply.

The chemical, PFOA, is used in the manufacturing of items including non-stick cookware and stain-resistant carpeting. It has been linked to certain types of cancer and other diseases, the Vermont Health Department has said.

"It's kind of mind-blowing," said Michael Jendrock, a resident of Pownal, where the chemical was discovered in a public water source. "You would trust your community that the water your drinking is safe. I guess not."

The amounts of PFOA are incredibly tiny--between 26 and 27 parts per trillion. Still, that level is higher than a state-advised level of 20 parts per trillion.

Health officials in Vermont have described PFOA as an "emerging contaminant," and said it is not a chemical that is tested for in standard water tests or listed on a list of hazardous chemicals under federal law that require management.

In Pownal, which is near the Massachusetts border, the situation affects about 450 people who live in the water district served by the contaminated supply, the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, said.

"Don't drink the water," cautioned Vince Chiorgno, a Vermont state environmental technician. "Don't use it for food preparation. It's ok to shower and wash with."

PFOA was already known to be in more than 100 private wells in Bennington and North Bennington, the Shumlin administration has said, with a closed industrial plant the suspected source. The former Chem Fab facility treated industrial fabrics for a host of applications.

In the area around the plant, emergency filtration systems are being installed in homes, and many more tests are still to come.

After the North Bennington problems, residents told the state about another company's possible dumping at an old wire manufacturing site in nearby Pownal, which inspired checks of the water source there.

"I think it's really important for citizens to have some confidence that anything we can do, we will do," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont. "The company [the currently owns the former plant] so far has been cooperative, and that's a good sign."

That company, Saint-Gobain, is paying for filtration systems, clean drinking water for residents, and testing, Shumlin's office has said.

Welch said the response to the water problem may well have a federal component, if monies from the Environmental Protection Agency could be obtained and used to help the affected parts of Bennington County. Welch said he plans to tour the area and speak with local leaders Monday.

The Pownal Rescue Squad is now handing out cases of bottled water to residents who cannot use their tap water.

"Hopefully, they can fix it and things can get back normal," Wayne Powers, a Pownal resident, told necn. "If not, I'll probably end up moving."

In addition to the bottled water from the rescue squad, large water tanks where residents can fill their jugs will be available at the rescue squad headquarters, and in the Burdick Trailer Park, the Greeb Mountain Mobile Home Park, and the Alta Garden Trailer Park, Shumlin's office said.

Because the chemical levels are so low, the Department of Environmental Conservation does not believe contamination is widespread. Still, more testing is planned. Residents should dial 2-1-1 to sign up to get their well sampled, Shumlin's office said.

For more information on PFOA contamination, and what resources are available to affected residents, visit this website.

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