Vermont poised to expand statewide PFAS testing

Published: Jul. 4, 2019 at 3:43 PM EDT
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Vermont health officials continue to ramp up testing of soil and water samples from around the state for PFAS, the toxic group of chemicals first discovered near the former Saint-Gobain plant in North Bennington in 2016.

"There were over 300 private wells in Bennington, Vermont, that were found to be contaminated with PFOA," said Sarah Vose with the Vermont Department of Health.

Since that time, The Department of Environmental Conservation has been collecting and testing samples from those sites, learning about all the different types of harmful chemicals that can be present in drinking water and soil.

PFAS have been used in Teflon and other common non-stick coatings. In addition to Bennington, it has been detected in numerous other locations including airports, where it was used in some varieties of firefighting foam.

State officials recently published a plan to expand the testing program this month. "We're also going to focus on a few additional industries. There may be more but we've, in this plan, identified electro-platers and car washes as a potential for there to be PFAS," said the DEC's Chuck Schwer.

Vermont lawmakers have required all public water supplies to be tested and have set strict standards for how much can exist in the water. "A part per trillion is a very, very small number, and I've heard comparisons like that to really put it in perspective -- a couple drops of water in an Olympic size swimming pool and the likes of that. It's a very, very small amount," Schwer said.

One of the biggest dangers with the chemicals is that their adverse effects occur over time due to prolonged exposure, so you might not be aware of you're exposure you've already got a ton of the chemicals in your system.

"We know that PFAS can affect a child's ability to learn and can affect a child's behavior and growth. PFAS can affect a woman's chances of getting pregnant. PFAS can interfere with the body's natural hormones. PFAS can adversely affect the immune system. PFAS can increase cholesterol levels and PFAS can increase a persons risk of getting some types of cancer," Vose said.


The ongoing testing comes as Vermont in June filed lawsuits targeting major companies that manufacture products containing PFAS.

Cat Viglienzni spoke with Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan about the state's legal action against DuPont, 3M, and other manufacturers of PFAS.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan: We filed lawsuits against 11 corporations for contaminating Vermont's air, our soil, our water, and people's bodies by putting dangerous chemicals, PFAs, into our environment. And here's the thing, they knew they were dangerous. And they never told us. And this has been going on for decades. It's time to hold them accountable. This started in Bennington but this contamination is all throughout the state. Our focus initially was bringing clean drinking water to the residents of Bennington. We got that job done. Access to clean drinking water is a human right. Now it's time to bring accountability to these corporations, these multinational chemical corporations, for contaminating Vermont's environment.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: To be clear for our viewers, Saint-Gobain is not involved in this current lawsuit?

Attorney General T.J. Donovan: Not St. Gobain, it is 11 corporations -- 3M, Dupont, some others -- but not St. Gobain.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What do Vermonters need to know about those chemicals in terms of what they should do if they think, 'Well, gee, it's not just in Bennington, was it in my area?' What kinds of areas of the state are we talking about?

Attorney General T.J. Donovan: Well let me be clear. Unfortunately, we are going to find PFAS contamination in every part of this state. This chemical was ubiquitous. Let me also be clear, there are some significant health risks associated with this chemical. And I certainly don't want to scare people, but I want to inform Vermonters that these types of chemicals are everywhere in this state. And frankly, we're already finding that they're in all corners of our state. And there are some serious health risks associated with these chemicals. So Vermonters should be informed. They should call my office. We're happy to talk to them. My environmental team is doing a tremendous job working with the Agency of Natural Resources. And what we did in Bennington, working to make sure people have clean drinking water -- that's the standard. And we want to make sure that everybody not only has access to clean drinking water, but making sure that they have the information they need to know to protect themselves and their health.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What are we looking at for a timetable here on when we might find out what recourse there is for Vermont with these companies?

Attorney General T.J. Donovan: Well, when you talk about recourse, that's exactly why we sued these companies in Vermont state court. Because we want to make Vermont whole. We want to make sure that we clean up the contamination throughout this state and protect Vermont's environment. As you know, there is a class action being brought by individuals in Bennington County. So what the attorney general's office does is represent the the state of Vermont, represent the stewardship of our environment, making sure that that contamination is cleaned up and we're making Vermont whole.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What kinds of ways would these have gotten in? Are we talking firefighting foam. What are we talking about?

Attorney General T.J. Donovan: Yes. Firefighting foam is a very good example of where these chemicals are. Teflon is another really good example. So, really quite ubiquitous products these chemicals are in. And frankly, unfortunately I think this contamination is going to be quite widespread in our state.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Is this likely to get settled, or is this likely to be fought all the way?

Attorney General T.J. Donovan: Too early to tell, but we're ready to fight.

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