Calling Clean Water a ‘Basic Human Right,' Vt. Announces Fix for Contaminated Wells

The multi-million dollar repair work followed the discovery of drinking water wells that were contaminated with an industrial chemical

An agreement announced Wednesday between the state of Vermont and the owner of a closed industrial site blamed for contaminating drinking water supplies should bring relief to a few hundred homeowners in the Bennington area.

“We’ve reached a result we can all be proud of,” said Peter Walke, the deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

Walke and other state leaders announced a final agreement with the company Saint-Gobain to bring clean water to contaminated properties on the east side of Bennington.

“Clean drinking water is a basic human right, and the people of Bennington County deserved it,” said Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan.

For three years, many in the area have been drinking bottled water and cooking with filtered water, because a manmade chemical known as PFOA was found to have crept into private water wells.

The old factory blamed for the contamination used that chemical to produce non-stick fabrics.

Depending on the amount of exposure, the substance has been linked to health problems like low birth weights and certain types of cancer.

“I always took it for granted that I had clean drinking water,” remarked Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County. “And when I see people just down the street from me without clean drinking water, it’s pretty scary.”

A previous deal saw Saint-Gobain paying roughly $20 million to extend safe municipal water lines to more than 200 Bennington properties whose wells were affected, like Ellen LaPlante’s place.

“I’m really proud to be a Vermonter, and having such high standards for our water,” LaPlante told necn in December of 2017 when a new water line started piping safe drinking water to her home.

Under the agreement announced Wednesday, there’s going to be another $20-25 million of construction this year and next. Saint-Gobain will cover most of it, state officials said, but the state will chip in about a fifth of the price of laying new water pipes to 200-plus homes and businesses.

That safe municipal supply can’t reach everyone, though, so some people will have fresh wells dug. They will be dug deeper, to where the groundwater is uncontaminated, Walke explained.

Walke read a written statement provided to him from Saint-Gobain, which said it is pleased to have reached the agreement with the state. In the statement, the company pledged to continue to work collaboratively with state and local officials as the construction work gets underway.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, thanked residents of Bennington and North Bennington for their patience.

“I don’t want to discount the amount of turmoil this has cost Bennington and those community members, because they’ve suffered through this,” the governor told reporters. “They’re suffering through this today. It’ll be a couple years for some of them to get the water lines they deserve.”

Gov. Scott also thanked the administration of his predecessor, Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, and the state’s previous attorney general, Bill Sorrell, for their work in the early days of the contamination emergency.

Sen. Sears noted that the agreement announced at the Vermont State House Wednesday does not affect a separate class-action lawsuit, where homeowners are seeking money for changes in their property values, medical expenses, and other costs.

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