North Bennington's PFOA Water Testing Began Thanks To A Concerned Resident

Mar 28, 2016

Carol Moore has worked and lived around Bennington for about 30 years. She was around when the Chemfab plant in North Bennington was operating. And she's always wondered about the emissions she used to see and smell, and about the stories she heard of the chemicals that were used there.

"Chemfab had always been on my radar," she says. "I pass it every day going to work. It's been out of business for a while. And, I would say practically, literally every day, it just pops in my mind, I wonder what's ... I just wonder about that place."

So when the chemical PFOA was found in drinking water in Hoosick Falls, New York, Moore says she couldn't shake the thought that maybe the same thing could happen in Bennington.

But like a lot of people, Moore has a family and a career and so she didn't really do anything.

She just kept wondering what would happen if someone tested the water near the Chemfab plant.

Then she went to a meeting at Bennington College to hear about what was happening in Hoosick Falls.

"I was so inspired by the Hoosick Falls residents," she says. "That's been one of the most moving powerful things that I've experienced through this process. And I watched just remarkable, ordinary people doing amazing things, becoming experts in PFOA, becoming water angels, taking water to residents, and that was the tipping point for me. I felt that I could do that too. I just knew that the word needed to get out."

So within a few days of that meeting Moore got the word out.

"I feel that this kind of thing has been going on for decades, if not longer, and the critical masses are recognizing that water's a finite resource. There's a lot of our water's polluted and we really need to take care of it. And I feel inspired." — Carol Moore

She sent an email message to Bennington lawmakers, including Rep. Kiah Morris.

Morris talked with the director of the Bennington County Regional Commission, who spoke with state environmental staff.

"So it really was a matter of minutes after that initial contact with the regional planning commission that they got back in touch, and themselves started asking questions and forwarding the communications we had to the state," Morris says. "And so when she reached out we took it very seriously and said let's do our due diligence and find a clear answer for the community so they don't have to question that as well."

What's remarkable about Moore's action is that no one in Vermont really thought  about testing the water in North Bennington.

"We were not that familiar with the chemical PFOA," says  Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren. "We had a little bit of information on it, but it wasn't something that was front and center in terms of our thinking."

Schuren says she heard from Representative Morris on a Wednesday, just a few days after Moore attended the meeting. And by the next week environmental officials were tracking down water test kits and making plans to test wells in North Bennington.

"When she reached out we took it very seriously and said let's do our due diligence and find a clear answer for the community so they don't have to question that as well." — Rep. Kiah Morris

Vermont set a safe drinking water limit of 20 parts per trillion and some of the wells in North Bennington have PFOA at rates as high as 2,700.

The chemical's also been detected in Pownal's public water system and Schuren says there could be more of the contaminant elsewhere.

So Moore might have helped save some lives. Or maybe prevent a family from going through a heartbreaking cancer battle.

"I feel that this kind of thing has been going on for decades, if not longer, and the critical masses are recognizing that water's a finite resource," says Moore. "There's a lot of our water's polluted and we really need to take care of it. And I feel inspired."

Moore never considered herself an activist. She hasn't marched outside nuclear power plants or led letter writing campaigns to try to convince lawmakers to take action.

But she says it feels pretty good to see some action being taken. And she might do some more work, she says, because she cares.