Potential contamination zone around state building spreading

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (WCAX) About two years ago, chemical contamination was found in a state office building in St. Johnsbury. Eighty employees worked there at the time. They were forced to relocate and the building has been closed ever since.

"It's sad," Matthew Christman said.

Christman is the front room manager at Salt Bistro, a newly opened restaurant on Eastern Avenue that is located directly across the street from the shuttered building.

"It affects the whole community as a whole to have empty buildings," Christman said. "The revenue and the income is missing no matter how you look at it."

In the spring of 2017, tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene were detected in the building. The chemicals, which can cause cancer, were linked to a former dry-cleaning operation.

The property owner is working with the state to determine the extent of the contamination. Now, additional testing is underway to see is the affected area is larger than previously thought.

"When we found out that they were going to be doing drilling all up and down Eastern Avenue, it was concerning," Town Manager Chad Whitehead said.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation informed nearby property owners that soil in rights of way near the closed state building is also being tested.

"I think five potential sites up through there that they are doing individual testing on. So, they kind of wanted the next step further. OK, let's get our arms around this whole thing and what needs to be done on all of Eastern Avenue," Whitehead said.

State officials say at this point, more data is needed to figure out the scope of the problem. But they also say that mitigation could be fairly simple, possibly using an air vacuum similar to how radon gas is removed from a house.

"If there is an issue, if there is something that needs to be mitigated, then we get a work plan together and we mitigate it," Whitehead said.

Employees at new businesses on the same block are eagerly waiting for the issue to be resolved.

"We are looking forward to having people back there and hopefully being able to serve them," Christman said.

Town officials say the results from the most recent testing could take an additional four to six weeks. They also say the outcome of those test results will determine what comes next.