Vermonters Blame Poison on Plastic Plant

     RUTLAND, Vt. (CN) — Vermont towns have been alarmed by reports that their drinking water has been contaminated with carcinogenic perflourooctanoic acid, and residents filed a federal class action blaming Saint-Gobains Performance Plastics for it.
     Lead plaintiff James Sullivan et al. say the plastic factory and its predecessor, ChemFab Corp., poisoned water and air in and around Bennington and North Bennington for more than 20 years.
     Reports of test results from Bennington spurred other towns and residents in southern Vermont to test their own water and the Vermont Legislature to pass legislation this year to encourage quicker response and residents’ ability to collect damages from polluters.
     Many Vermonters get their drinking water from private wells. Environmental advocates were disappointed that this year’s legislation did not require testing of private wells near the chemical plant.
     The chemical, known as PFOA, also was found in drinking water in Pownal, south of Bennington.
     New Hampshire officials are concerned that drinking water may have been contaminated with PFOA from a St. Gobain plant in Merrimack, N.H. PFOA has been found in 100 to 200 private wells in New Hampshire, and the number continues to rise, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.
     Saint-Gobain and ChemFab made Teflon-coated fiberglass fabrics from 1977 to 2002 in Southern Vermont and “discharged significant amounts of PFOA” into the air, soil and water, according to the complaint.
     PFOA repels water and oil, making it useful for Teflon coating for non-stick cooking utensils.
     According to a 2010 study from the National Institutes of Health, PFOA does not occur naturally, is most likely introduced to humans through drinking water and can have toxic effects on the immune, liver and endocrine systems.
     The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in March sampled 180 private drinking wells within 1.5 miles of Saint-Gobain’s plant and found that 116 contained PFOA, 105 of them in concentrations about the state public health department’s limit for safe drinking water.
     The DEC has declared parts of Bennington and North Bennington “Designated Areas of Concern.”
     The four named plaintiffs live in the designated areas.
     “As a result of the contamination of their private drinking water supply wells with PFOA, plaintiffs and class members have consumed and ingested PFOA over many years, with deleterious long-term physiologic alterations and damage to their blood, liver, kidneys, immune system, and other organs,” according to the complaint.
     Saint-Gobain is evaluating the claims, its spokeswoman Dina Silver Pokedoff said.
     “Saint-Gobain has acted quickly and openly since learning the presence of PFOA in private wells, including funding bottled water and point-of-entry filtration systems, as well as discussing potential long-term solutions,” Pokedoff said in an email. “We will continue to work cooperatively with the state to address concerns over the drinking water. Our priority has been and continues to be ensuring the residents of North Bennington have clean drinking water.”
     The plaintiffs’ lead counsel is Patrick Bernal with Witten, Woolmington, Campbell & Bernal in Manchester Center.

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