Saint-Gobain Sues State Of Vermont Over Permanent PFOA Water Standard

Feb 9, 2017

Saint-Gobain, the company that owned the North Bennington factory that's suspected of polluting water in the area, has stepped up its legal battle against the state of Vermont.

Saint-Gobain filed a lawsuit in Washington Superior Court challenging the state's permanent safe water standard for the chemicals PFOA and PFOS.

Department of Environmental Conservation attorney Matt Chapman says the company filed two previous suits against the state's temporary safe drinking water standard.

Chapman says the company is now challenging the state's permanent safe drinking water standard of 20 parts per trillion.

"Well, it's not unexpected in light of the prior two lawsuits," Chapman said. "We're confident with respect to the science that went into adopting these rules. And we're hopeful we'll be successful as the case moves forward through the process."

When the chemical was first detected in the Bennington wells, Vermont did not have a safe drinking water standard and so the state set a temporary limit.

The state's permanent standard was adopted in December.

Saint-Gobain owned the Chemfab factory in North Bennington that used the industrial chemical PFOA as part of a process to weatherproof fabric. The state says the factory polluted about 270 wells in the area.

"We're confident with respect to the science that went into adopting these rules. And we're hopeful we'll be successful as the case moves forward through the process." — Matt Chapman, attorney for the Department of Environmental Conservation

PFOA has been linked to a number of health effects including kidney and testicular cancer, high blood pressure and thyroid issues.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set its safe drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion.

Saint-Gobain spokeswoman Dina Silver Pokedoff said the company respected Vermont's right to set its own PFOA limits, but that it needed to do so in a "fair manner based on sound science."

"Earlier this year, the state of Vermont announced a final standard for PFOA in groundwater of [20 parts per trillion], which is near the minimum detection limit for the compound," Silver Pokedoff said. "It's important that the state adopt a standard that is reasonably appropriate, protective and realistic from a public health standpoint."

In filing the lawsuit earlier this month, Saint-Gobain also had a sheriff serve court summons this week to a number of Bennington residents.

The first line on the summons stated that the person was being sued, even though they were not named in the lawsuit.

David Bond, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College, says people felt threatened when a sheriff showed up at their door with a court summons from the company.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

David Bond is associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College, known as CAPA. He's been working with some Bennington residents on the water contamination issue and was contacted by them about the court papers.

Bond said the people he heard from were upset and confused when a sheriff showed up with a court summons from the company.

"[Residents] felt like Saint-Gobain was trying to harass and silence them for speaking out against the company that poisoned their water." — David Bond, Bennington College professor

"Residents I spoke with felt threatened by the summons," Bond said. "They felt like Saint-Gobain was trying to harass and silence them for speaking out against the company that poisoned their water. Rather than working toward a solution to this problem, Saint-Gobain appears to be intent on delaying progress and possibly intimidating impacted residents."

Saint-Gobain has been negotiating with state officials over who will pay for an estimated $30 million extension of nearby waterlines.

Update 10:00 p.m. Feb. 9, 2017: This story has been updated to include new information about the timing and content of the court summons served on Bennington County residents.