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Agency Of Natural Resources Wants To Test All Vermont Drinking Water For PFAS Chemicals

Glasses of water on a windowsill.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources said it will begin a rulemaking process to add five PFAS chemicals to the list of contaminants that all public drinking water suppliers must monitor on a regular basis.

The Agency of Natural Resources wants to test all of Vermont’s drinking water for five per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and the agency said it will begin a rulemaking process to add the five chemicals to the list of contaminants that all public drinking water suppliers must monitor on a regular basis.

Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke said before the rulemaking process begins state officials will spend about a month meeting with water system engineers and scientists to get a better understanding of what the change might mean for municipalities and public water supply operators across the state that will be required to run the new tests.

“This means that all public water supplies will have to address this through their normal process,” said Walke. “This will affect a number of different entities from public drinking water systems to the public at large and it will be a definite change to things.”

The agency wants to set maximum contaminant levels for five compounds:

  • perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
  • perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)
  • perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)
  • perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA)
  • perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)

The Vermont Department of Health says the chemicals may "affect growth, learning and behavior of babies." The Health Department also says the chemicals might affect the immune system and some studies have linked exposure to an increase in cholesterol levels and to an increased risk of cancer.

The state’s decision to add the five chemicals came in response to a petition filed by the Conservation Law Foundation.

CLF wanted the state to establish a treatment technique for public water supplies containing PFAS chemicals, but the state says more work needs to be done before a specific treatment can be required.

“We are encouraged by ANR’s commitment to evaluate options to protect Vermonters from the PFAS class of chemicals,” said Jen Duggan, director of CLF Vermont. “ANR’s decision to regulate five PFAS chemicals is an important first step. There are thousands of these harmful substances, and CLF will continue to fight to get them out of our water.”

The state is proposing the levels to be set at 20 parts per trillion, which is lower than the 70 parts per trillion level set by the Environmental Protection Agency for PFOA and PFOS.

Walke said the federal standard is a health advisory level, which does not require drinking water operators to include the chemicals in its testing schedule along the lines of known contaminants such as arsenic, lead and mercury.

“What we’re not seeing is action at the federal level to set a standard across the country and so we feel it is time now to move forward with this at the state level,” Walke said.

"It is a progression from since we have evolved over the last couple of years from being in emergency response mode to the crisis in Bennington to working to get ahead of this problem and make sure that all Vermonters are protected." — Peter Walke, Agency of Natural Resources deputy secretary

Hundreds of private wells around Bennington were contaminated with PFOA, and the chemical has also been found around Rutland Regional Airport, in Clarendon, and in Pownal.

After PFOA was discovered in Bennington, the Agency of Natural Resources established a health advisory level and a groundwater standard. Those benchmarks helped the state as it negotiated a settlement with Saint-Gobain over the water contamination around the former Chemfab plant in Bennington.

But this new proposed rule would add the five PFAS chemicals to the testing schedules for municipalities, hospitals, housing communities and any other system that supplies public water.

“It is a progression from — since we have evolved over the last couple of years — from being in emergency response mode to the crisis in Bennington to working to get ahead of this problem and make sure that all Vermonters are protected,” Walke said. “We don’t have any indication that there are drinking water sources that do have PFAS in them, but the testing will help us understand if that is occurring.”

Since it is not routine for water system operators to test for the PFAS chemicals, Walke said the state is working to establish testing protocol and also to find a lab that can test for the chemicals.

“We understand it is a burden on communities and we want to make sure that we limit that burden as much as possible,” he said.

New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey are also in the process of adding some of the PFAS chemicals to their drinking water standards.

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