News Feature | December 28, 2016

Vermont Sets New Drinking Water Standard For PFOA

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

Earlier this month, a legislative committee permanently set Vermont’s safe drinking water standard for the chemicals PFOA and PFOS at 20 ppt. The limit for Vermont is below the EPA's limit of 70 ppt, and is now one of the lowest drinking water standards in the U.S.

PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a dangerous chemical that's been linked to a host of health effects such as thyroid disease, cancer, high cholesterol, and endocrine issues. When PFOA was found in the water in southwestern Vermont in February, very few people in the state had even heard of the chemical.

At that time, Vermont had set its safe drinking water standard at 20 ppt under an emergency rule. On Dec. 15, after numerous hearings and a public comment period, New Hampshire Public Radio reported that the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules permanently set the safety standard at 20 ppt.

"I think this gives the people in Bennington County who are dealing with concerns related to PFOA a level of comfort," Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren said. "The rule is now set in stone, and there isn't a question about it any longer."

Similarly, this past summer in the wake of a contamination that forced the closure of the primary drinking water supply for the city of Newburgh, NY, in May, City Manager Michael Ciaravino is asking the state Department of Health (DOH) to begin testing residents.

According to the Times Herald-Record, in a letter sent to DOH earlier this month, Ciaravino said that there is “adequate justification” for the state to offer testing for residents who were exposed to PFOS, whose levels led to the closure of Washington Lake.

Also, in August of this year, the city of Fountain, CO, found itself on a growing list of American communities that are dealing with elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in their drinking water.

According to The New York Times, in the last few months, PFC poisoning has plagued communities nationwide, from Hoosick Falls, NY to North Bennington, VT.

"Unlike in many of the other places, the contamination in Fountain and in two nearby communities, Widefield and Security, is not believed to be related to manufacturing," the Times reported. "Rather, the authorities suspect that it was caused by Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a firefighting substance used on military bases nationwide."

The contamination in Bennington has been linked to the former Chemfab plant, which was owned by Saint-Gobain before it moved in 2001.

This past April, Saint-Gobain brought three lawsuits against the state challenging its low drinking water standard.

"While Vermont can set a PFOA limit, it is important that the State appropriately evaluates and properly applies the factors that go into setting any such regulatory standard," Saint Gobain spokeswoman Dina Silver Pokedoff told the Times in a prepared statement. "That is why Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics filed in September an appeal of Vermont’s emergency rule issued in August that sets the limit for PFOA at 20 ppt."