Hazardous chemicals found in airport business park well

PFOA has been found in a well that serves the Rutland Airport Industrial Park in Clarendon affecting several businesses including the Vermont Country Store. Affected businesses have been provided bottled water and a filtering device is slated to be installed. (Photo by Jon Olender)

CLARENDON — Tenants in the Rutland Airport Business Park are under a “do not drink” water order after elevated levels of PFAS were found in a well that serves the park. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that include PFOA and PFOS. The chemicals have often been used to treat non-stick items like ski wax and stain-resistant carpets. They have been linked to health risks like increased cholesterol, and PFOA has been linked to certain cancers. Peter Walke, deputy secretary of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said as part of the statewide sampling survey looking for PFAS, scientists looked for places where products that might use PFAS were used. One use was firefighting foam used at airports. Walke said 10 wells were tested in and around the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport. Vermont maintains one of the strictest limits for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water at 20 parts per trillion. Levels close to that limit and slightly above it were found in two wells that serve a single water system. The well with levels above 20 parts per trillion provides water to six businesses at the business park including the Vermont Country Store. Walke said the samples were collected on March 13. The results of the tests were received last week. The affected businesses were notified and bottled water was provided for employees. Rick Gile, president of the Rutland Airport Business Park Association, said all the affected tenants received notification of the state's findings as well as information about health hazards through a flier that could be provided to all employees. Gile said the state also notified the building's tenants about the plans to address the contamination. “It's a problem, and nobody wants a problem, but it's a problem that is being handled in as reasonable a manner as it can be handled,” he said. Walke said staff from DEC met with the operator of the water system and representatives of an engineering firm on Tuesday to discuss whether a temporary treatment system should be put in place or whether a permanent system could be installed in roughly the same amount of time. “Obviously, we would like to go to the final design remedy sooner rather than later. Everybody is currently protected from a public health perspective from being on bottled water and having switched to the cleaner well. I think that's the first step,” he said. Gile said he believed most tenants were using water for cooling equipment or providing water to staff, but Vermont Country Store operates an on-site bakery. Geof Brown, executive vice president at Vermont Country Store, said in a statement that after learning about the presence of PFOA and PFOS, company officials “immediately brought in bottled water to use in our bakery operations and to provide to our employees.” “There is a small amount of water used in making the cookie buttons and Vermont Common Crackers that are baked in our facility. We voluntarily provided recipe information to the Vermont Department of Health so they could review and recommend whether any resulting actions were necessary. The state toxicologist confirmed with us that the order of magnitude for the presence of PFOA and PFOS in our cookies and crackers would be considerably below the Department of Health’s threshold of 20 parts per trillion, so there was no need for further action at this time,” he said. Brown said Vermont Country Store officials would continue to cooperate and communicate with the state. “The safety of our employees and our customers is of paramount importance, so we are monitoring this very closely and will continue to do so until it is confirmed that the Rutland Industrial Park water supply is safe,” he said. Gile said he was sympathetic to residents in Bennington County. The presence of PFOA in the area was first noted in nearby Hoosick Falls, New York, but was then found in several sites, including a number of private wells in North Bennington. The situation there has been ongoing but the presumed source is Saint Gobain, after it acquired ChemFab, a plant that operated in North Bennington. Gile said he believed the state's involvement in the contamination in North Bennington and Bennington allowed them to respond as quickly and efficiently as they had in Clarendon.

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