Vermont to begin widespread PFAS sampling this summer

Published: 6/24/2019 10:10:49 PM
Modified: 6/24/2019 10:10:45 PM

MONTPELIER — Three years after hundreds of wells in southern Vermont were found to be contaminated with a class of chemicals linked to serious health issues, the state is set to begin a new sampling effort to determine how great of a threat PFAS poses to drinking water across Vermont.

State officials published a plan this month to test for PFAS — or Perfluoroalkyl substances — contamination by car washes, landfills, and at all public drinking water supplies. Testing is set to begin in July.

“I really look at this statewide sampling plan as building on what we learned from the … sampling we did after discovering Bennington (contamination),” said Chuck Schwer, director of waste management and prevention for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

PFAS substances gained notoriety in Vermont when the state discovered widespread PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) contamination around two former factories in North Bennington in 2016. Over 300 private drinking water wells had PFOA levels above the state’s health advisory. The state worked with Saint-Gobain Plastics Performance, the company that had acquired the former owner of the factories, to install treatment systems and reached a multi-million-dollar settlement to cover the cost of municipal water line extensions.

Since then, the state also has found PFAS contamination in drinking water near a former wire coating facility in Pownal, by the Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport in Clarendon, and at the Grafton Elementary School, among other sites.

PFAS do not break down in the environment and are used in a wide array of manufactured products, from rain jackets to cookware to firefighting foam. Scientists now know that exposure to certain PFAS chemicals can lead to cancer, hormone disruption, immune system damage, developmental problems in children and low birth weight.

State officials identified car washes and electroplating — a type of metal coating — facilities as high priorities for the next round of sampling, said Schwer. As Vermont has 79 car washes, state officials will prioritize testing by car washes near high numbers of private drinking water wells, he said.

This May, Gov. Phil Scott signed into law Act 21, which requires drinking supply managers to test to ensure levels of five PFAS contaminants — including PFOA — are below a combined 20 parts per trillion. If elevated levels are found, drinking supply managers have to treat the water to lower the levels.

While the state will not be testing public drinking water supplies, the Department of Environmental Conservation has been working with water supply managers to prepare for the Dec. 1 testing deadline, said Schwer. One of the biggest costs for the state would be installing treatment systems at drinking water supplies if elevated PFAS levels are detected, he said.

“When you think about how low our health standard is, it’s definitely got a lot of water supply owners concerned,” he said.

The state also will require additional PFAS testing of landfill leachate, wastewater treatment plant output, groundwater at landfills and treated sludge spread on fields. Casella, owner of the Coventry Landfill, also is required to test PFAS levels in certain kinds of industrial waste it receives.

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