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Saint-Gobain Challenges State's PFOA Level In Court

The company that's been working closely with the state on the water contamination crisis in North Bennington is now questioning Vermont's low safety standard for the chemical PFOA.

Saint-Gobain filed a complaint in Washington Superior Court last week on the state's interim ground water standard that set a level of 20 parts per trillion.

And the company filed a second appeal in the Vermont Environmental Court that questions the science behind the state's safe drinking level.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren says the state used the most recent studies available to set its safe drinking water standard for PFOA.

"We used the same formula to set that 20 parts per trillion drinking water standard that we've set every other drinking water standard for the state of Vermont," Schuren says. "And so, we've been very consistent with our methodology, and so we'll work it through in court. It's unfortunate that they've filed a challenge, but we'll continue working in partnership with them in the other areas that we do agree."

Vermont Press Bureau reporter Neil Goswami first reported on Saint-Gobain's court challenges late Tuesday.

"It''s critical for us, the North Bennington community, Vermonters and all involved to participate in the fair rulemaking process," Saint-Gobain spokeswoman Dina Silver Pokedoff wrote in an email message. "We need to understand the specific science the state has evaluated and vetted that led to setting the limit at this level."

The Environmental Protection Agency has set its health advisory level at 400 parts per trillion, and the state of New Hampshire uses a level of 100 parts per trillion.

Vermont says it set its level low to protect children, who, according to the Vermont Department of Health, consume more water as a percentage of their body weight.

"We respect Vermont's right to set its own PFOA limits in a fair manner and based on sound science, but it's important that the State adopt a standard that is reasonably appropriate, protective and realistic from a public health standpoint," Silver Pokedoff wrote.

Saint-Gobain has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million on water tests, bottled water and carbon filters around North Bennington.

The company has not yet said if it would pay for municipal water line extensions, which could cost up to $10 million.

"Without a doubt it would be cheaper for the company if that number was higher," says Schuren. "And if we're setting a ground water standard at 20 parts per trillion, what they're looking at in terms of remediation will be more expensive than if we set that standard higher."

Saint-Gobain used PFOA in North Bennington to produce weather resistant fabrics that were used to cover buildings and stadiums.

Prior to the discovery of PFOA in private wells in North Bennington, Vermont did not have a safe drinking standard because the chemical had not been detected in the state.

The state set an interim standard after the chemical was detected in North Bennington.

In its complaint that was filed in Washington Superior Court on April 13, Saint-Gobain says the way the state set that standard was not in accordance with the Vermont Administrative Procedures Act.

Schuren and DEC attorney Matt Chapman are scheduled to go before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules Thursday to seek final approval of the standard.

Just this week Saint-Gobain agreed to pay for a $30,000 engineering study of the nearby municipal water systems.

So far 126 private wells have elevated levels of PFOA.

The state is still testing wells near the former Chemfab factory in North Bennington, which Saint-Gobain owned between 2000 and 2002.

Update 10 a.m. 4/19/16 This post has been updated to include additional information from Alyssa Schuren that clarifies the state's safe drinking water standard.

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