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Saint-Gobain, Vermont reach $40M PFOA settlement

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics will pay a "significant" portion of a $40 million-plus settlement with the state of Vermont to clean up groundwater pollution from a factory it operated in North Bennington, the state's governor announced April 10.

In a news conference surrounded by state officials, Gov. Phil Scott said the agreement calls for Saint-Gobain to pay to extend municipal water lines to 245 homes to address concerns over water pollution of wells from perfluooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which had been used to make fluoropolymers.

As part of the agreement, state officials said Saint-Gobain is withdrawing its legal challenge to Vermont's 20 parts per trillion standard for PFOA in drinking water.

The state was one of the first to set a low PFOA standard — much less than the 70 ppt federal advisory standard.

Peter Walke, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, told reporters that the company dropping its lawsuit was an "important step" that would let the state begin to enforce the new standard.

The April 10 agreement builds on a 2017 deal between Vermont and Saint-Gobain to extend water service to more than 200 homes with drinking water wells with PFOA levels above the state's standard.

Together, the two agreements cover about 470 homes in North Bennington and Bennington, with a total cost of more than $40 million.

A state news release said the second phase of the agreement, announced April 10, would cost $20 million to$25 million, on top of the $20 million for the first phase. Saint-Gobain also paid for waterline extensions in the first phase.

The release said the state would pay $4.7 million for the second phase and that Saint-Gobain would pay a "significant" portion of the waterline extensions and be responsible for costs for homes that remain on well water, including drilling of deeper replacement wells and the long-term maintenance of home treatment systems.

"Since PFOA was discovered in Bennington wells, leaders across state and local government — under multiple administrations — have been working to restore safe drinking water to every resident, and I'm pleased to take another step forward today," Scott said.

Saint-Gobain did not attend the news conference, but Walke read a statement from the company.

"Saint-Gobain is pleased to have reached an agreement with the state of Vermont regarding Corrective Action Area 2 and in reaching our shared goal, access to potable drinking water for the residents of Bennington," the company said. "Since first learning about PFOA in certain groundwaters in Bennington, we have strived to take a leadership position in regard to this issue and work collaboratively with local and state authorities. We will continue to work in cooperation with officials as the work gets underway."

Saint-Gobain did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a settlement agreement with the state, PFOA was contained in certain polytetrafluoroethylene fabric coatings used in the North Bennington plant, which closed in 2002. The facility had previously been owned by Chemical Fabrics Corp., and both companies used the PTFE coatings, according to the settlement agreement. Saint-Gobain bought Chemfab in 2000.

Walke said Saint-Gobain had been working closely with Vermont officials. State Attorney General Thomas Donovan said the three years it took to reach the settlement was quicker than the five to seven years it would have taken to litigate.

Vermont state officials are also moving forward on a standard for maximum contaminant levels for five related compounds in the family of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, Walke said.

"I will say that every state in the country, if they haven't dealt with it already, is awakening to not just PFOA but what we know now as PFAS," Walke said. "Our knowledge on this subject is evolving rapidly and really growing. Each state is coming to terms with it in different ways."

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» Publication Date: 12/04/2019

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