PFOA detected in Essex, Colchester

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PFOA GlobalFoundries

Groundwater around the GlobalFoundries plant in Essex Jct. tested positive for suspected carcinogen PFOA according to state officials. (File photo)

By JASON STARR

Groundwater around IBM in Essex Jct. and Champlain Cable in Colchester contains the suspected carcinogen PFOA, the state announced Wednesday.

The state began testing industrial sites in Chittenden County for perfluorooctanoic acid this year after the chemical was found around a former material manufacturing plant in North Bennington, where it contaminated drinking water.

PFOA at the IBM and Champlain Cable sites has not contaminated drinking supplies because both areas are served by Champlain Water District municipal water systems, the state said.

At Champlain Cable, all 12 wells tested contained concentrations of PFOA ranging from 77 to 7,200 parts per trillion. According to Vermont Agency of Natural Resources spokeswoman Danika Frisbie, the only other of the 11 Chittenden County sites that tested higher is the Vermont Air National Guard.

“That is very significant,” Frisbie said of the Champlain Cable results.

Fifteen wells were tested around IBM, and eight contained PFOA concentrations between eight and 190 parts per trillion, the state reported. Anything over 20 parts per trillion warrants a health advisory, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

The state found no drinking wells within a mile of the IBM site at 1,000 River Rd., Frisbie said. There are nine private wells within a mile of Champlain Cable at 175 Hercules Dr., Frisbie said.

Six are used for industrial rather than drinking purposes, she said; three are potentially drinking wells, and the state is confirming whether they are active.

Champlain Water District taps Lake Champlain at a depth of 75 feet for its drinking water. Its water most recently tested clean of PFOA in 2014, according to general manager Jim Fay.

PFOA Champlain Cable_cas

At Champlain Cable in Colchester, all 12 wells tested contained concentrations of PFOA. (File photo)

“The good news is that the threat to drinking water is really low,” Frisbie said.

Anyone who believes they have a drinking water well within a one-mile radius of either site is asked to call the Department of Environmental Conservation at 828-1138.

IBM’s Essex facility was acquired by GlobalFoundries last year, but IBM retains offices there and responsibility for the well water. The company began making microchips on the campus in the 1950s. PFOA is unregulated and was once used to manufacture microchips and non-stick coatings, but it has since been phased out.

The company has changed ownership through the years. A previous owner, Ashland Chemical of Ohio, collected and tested the samples, according to Champlain Cable environmental health and safety manager Brian Fitzgerald. Both Fitzgerald and Frisbie were unsure if Ashland would accept responsibility for PFOA cleanup.

“We own the property, but so far it’s been a discussion between the state and Ashland,” Fitzgerald said. “If they don’t respond, I’m not sure what will happen.”

DEC will next investigate the geographical extent of the contamination at both sites, Frisbie said. Once the extent of contamination is confirmed, the department will work with the companies on a remediation plan.

“The priority is always to contain the chemical, then decrease levels or at least make sure they don’t increase,” Frisbie said. “These compounds do degrade over time, but it’s very, very slow.”

Earlier this year, the state tested groundwater around the Saxon Hill Industrial Park in Essex. Tests there did not show a presence of PFOA.