New tests confirm 'slightly' higher PFOA levels

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 — A second round of tests of the wells that serve the Rutland Airport Business Park confirmed the presence of PFOA and PFOS in slightly higher levels than the first round showed. Chuck Schwer, waste management director for the Department of Environmental Conservation, said Friday the levels were still relatively low and close to the Vermont limit of 20 parts per trillion for the toxic chemicals, which can increase the risk of cancer and affect the body's immune system. Although he didn't have the test results with him Friday, he said the PFOA and PFOS levels were “slightly higher, but nothing that was surprising.” The March 13 test results showed one well had a concentration of 14.9 parts per trillion, and the second well had concentrations of 25.2 parts per trillion. Water from the two wells is combined in a large storage tank and then distributed. Schwer said Vermont Country Store, which is the largest business served by the two wells, had installed its own small carbon filter system on the water used by the company, which was successfully removing the chemicals. “After the filter systems, it was 'non-detectable,'” he said. “That is good news that the filter system works.” Employees at businesses in the park are being provided with bottled water for the time being. Schwer said the state was working with a consultant to design and install a carbon filtration system for the two wells that serve about a half-dozen businesses in the park, which is on the western edge of the state airport. The Agency of Transportation, which owns the land where the suspect wells are located, is paying for the carbon treatment system, as well as the bottled water for the businesses. “The state is paying for everything so far,” Schwer said. The large carbon filtration system needed to be designed and permitted, and he had no timetable for its installation. The contamination of the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) is suspected by the state to have come from chemical-laden firefighting foam used in 1986 during a plane crash on the end of the east-west runway. Schwer said the state was still testing private wells surrounding the airport to try and pinpoint the extent of contamination. He said another seven wells had been tested this week, but he didn't expect the results from those tests for about two weeks. Richard Gile, administrator for the Rutland Airport Business Park Association, said Friday the state was being responsive to people's concerns. He said the state was working with Otter Creek Engineering to come up with the large carbon filtration system. Gile said the wells were drilled at least 30 years ago and were on airport land because developers of the business park could not find an adequate water source on their own land. “The wells have had some difficulty with them, they couldn't find water,” said Gile. Gile said he was unaware that Vermont Country Store, which runs a warehouse operation and bakery at the business park, had installed its own filtration system. A spokeswoman for Vermont Country Store couldn't be reached Friday. Gile said the Vermont Country Store was particularly concerned because it used the water — in small amounts — in its bakery. But an analysis by the Department of Health showed the baking of the cookies and crackers destroyed the traces of PFOA and PFOS. He said the big question was whether the contamination was spreading. “Nobody knows whether there are other wells that are contaminated or not,” he said, noting the state was trying to “surround” the area with sampling. Gile said he didn't know how many people were employed at the business park, but he said the Vermont Country Store was the largest employer by far, and fluctuated according to seasonal demand. susan.smallheer@rutlandherald.com

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