Bennington College Scientists Find PFOA Miles Away From Saint-Gobain Factory

Aug 2, 2018

Scientists from Bennington College say they've uncovered PFOA contamination far beyond the neighborhoods with polluted wells.

The college received a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant in 2017 to study PFOA contamination in southwestern Vermont, and the recent research was part of that study.

Bennington College professor David Bond said faculty and students collected water and soil samples in the Green Mountain National Forest and found the chemical was widespread in the environment. The findings were just released in a report.

“We do hope this starts a conversation among our municipal and state leaders about the scale of the problem we might be dealing with,” Bond said.

"We do hope this starts a conversation among our municipal and state leaders about the scale of the problem we might be dealing with." — David Bond, Bennington College professor

PFOA was used at the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington, and about 300 wells in Bennington are contaminated with the chemical. Health studies have linked PFOA with cancer, immune deficiencies, thyroid disease and high cholesterol.

Saint-Gobain owned the factory, and the company is paying about $20 million to extend municipal water lines to some of the contaminated homes. However the company says it’s impossible to prove that it is responsible for contamination in another section of town.

But Bond said this new research clearly shows that the factory is responsible for contamination throughout the region.

“This to us suggests strongly that airborne emissions of PFOA is responsible for the elevated PFOA levels we’re finding throughout the Green Mountains downwind of that plant,” Bond said. “When you zoom out, you suddenly begin to see that PFOA might have traveled much further than anyone’s allowing for.”

Bond said levels of PFOA in the soil are much higher in a band that corresponds to the prevailing winds that blow out of Bennington.

A Saint-Gobain spokeswoman provided the following statement via email:

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics has not reviewed this report.

The basis of our ongoing discussions with the state is the Conceptual Site Model prepared by Barr Engineering to investigate PFAS in soil and groundwater in and around the Town of Bennington and the Village of North Bennington. Since learning about the presence of PFOA in Bennington, Saint-Gobain made it a priority to take a leadership position and be a positive partner in the community. We continue to work with the State of Vermont in accordance with the Consent Order, which Saint-Gobain voluntarily signed with the State in July 2017.

Click here to see the full Bennington College report. Find more of VPR's PFOA-related coverage here.