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Environmental Conservation Dept. To Test More Vermont Schools For PFAS Chemicals

Maisie Twohig, 10, drinks from a water fountain at Grafton Elementary School.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
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VPR
Maisie Twohig, 10, drinks from a water fountain at Grafton Elementary School. The school was one of two where PFAS was detected during testing this summer, and so the state installed a carbon filter to remove PFAS chemicals from the water.

The Department of Environmental Conservation will extend its testing program for PFAS chemicals in the drinking water at Vermont schools.

Previous testing by the state has detected lead and PFAS chemicals at some Vermont schools, and just last week the Health Department recommended that all schools test their water for lead.

The state tested 10 schools this summer for PFAS chemicals, and both Grafton Elementary School and Warren Elementary School had levels of the chemicals above the state’s safe drinking water standard of 20 parts per trillion.

Chuck Schwer, the Department of Environmental Conservation's waste management director, said the state is now looking over a list of approximately 25 other schools to figure out which should be the next in line for the water testing.

"In light of finding two out of 10, we felt it was prudent to move forward with some additional testing." — Chuck Schwer, Department of Environmental Conservation

“In light of finding two out of 10, we felt it was prudent to move forward with some additional testing,” said Schwer. “But to take a little more time to make sure we’re really being smart about it, and that we really are getting the next most vulnerable, most high-risk schools.”

Grafton Elementary School Principal Liz Harty said the state installed a carbon filter at the school. The water has been tested and is once again safe to drink — and Harty said she was ready to move on.

“It’s just easier,” Harty said about being able to use the taps and water fountains. “We’ve had bubblers in every classroom, so that’s been great. But it’s just kind of easier to use the regular faucet and not have to worry about students using the faucet when they’re not supposed to.”

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Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
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VPR
The state paid for the carbon filters at Grafton and Warren elementary schools after both schools had levels of PFAS chemicals above the state's safe drinking water standard of 20 parts per trillion.

PFAS chemicals were used in a large variety of commercial and consumer products, and the Department of Environmental Conservation thinks that floor cleaners that contained the chemicals might have been dumped from janitors' buckets and then leached down into the schools’ wells.

The PFOA that contaminated about 300 wells in Bennington is just one from the class of PFAS chemicals that are being found in water supplies all over the country.

Schwer said scientists are now doing more tests in Grafton and Warren to get a better understanding of what happened there, and they’re looking at the wells and soil at those 25-or-so other schools to figure out which will be tested next. He said those results will help the state figure out if even more schools need to be tested for the dangerous chemicals.

“So if in the next round we find none of them are contaminated, we may not be as concerned about additional testing,” said Schwer. “And then of course if we find eight out of the 10, or something like that, then I think we would be much more concerned.”

Schwer said he hopes this next round of water testing at other schools will take part before the end of this year.

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