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Vermont, company reach settlement in water contamination

April 10, 2019 GMT

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The state of Vermont has reached a settlement with a plastics company that will ensure hundreds of people in the Bennington area whose drinking water wells were contaminated with a potentially dangerous chemical have access to clean water, top state officials said Wednesday.

Under the settlement announced by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and others, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics has agreed to extend municipal water lines to 245 more homes on the east side of Bennington, bringing the total number of affected homes and businesses in the area that will be hooked up to clean water to 470.

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In addition, the company agreed to provide other sources of water, such as drilling new wells or maintaining treatment systems, for 20 additional homes in areas where it is not possible to hook up to the municipal system.

Construction is set to begin this summer. Officials hope to complete construction by the end of next year.

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With the latest agreement, expected to cost Saint-Gobain $20 million to $25 million, the company has agreed to spend about $45 million to address well contamination in the Bennington area, Scott said during a Statehouse news conference where the agreement was announced. The state is going to contribute $4.7 million.

“This is a good day for the folks of Bennington County, this is a good day for the state of Vermont,” Donovan said at the Statehouse news conference.

In 2016, private drinking water wells in the area around a former industrial facility now owned by Saint-Gobain detected the presence of the chemical, used in the production of certain non-stock products, in some cases well above the state’s health advisory for the chemical.

Since then the state has been working to identify the scope of the program and seek solutions with Saint-Gobain. Saint-Gobain had previously provided bottled drinking water to affected homes and filters for home water systems.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Peter Walke, the deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, read a statement from Saint-Gobain saying the company was pleased by the settlement.

“Since first learning about PFOA in certain groundwater in Bennington we have strived to take a leadership position in regard to this issue and work collaboratively with local and state authorities,” the statement said. “We will continue to work in cooperation with officials as the work gets underway.”

Additional PFOA contamination was discovered in Hoosick Falls, New York, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Bennington, and in parts of southern New Hampshire.

In January, the village of Hoosick Falls voted to file suit against Saint-Gobain and another company after being unable to reach an agreement.

Last year, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics agreed to permanently provide the drinking water to 302 homes in Bedford, Litchfield and Merrimack. That brings the number of properties getting help from Saint-Gobain to more than 750. The state has not said how much the plan would cost.

Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency is developing safety limits for PFOA and related chemicals, known collectively as PFAS, found in drinking water in several states. Some environmentalists counter the EPA isn’t going far enough to protect the public from the chemicals, which have turned up increasingly in public water systems and private wells.

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AP reporter Mike Casey in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.