(NaturalNews) The old ChemFab plant above the Walloomsac River near North Bennington, Vt., was, for many years, a respected local employer, back in the days when the village’s prosperity depended mostly on industry.
But for others, the plant was an eyesore and a nuisance, with its smokestacks spewing waste that permeated nearby homes, choking residents with an acrid smell that many believed caused nosebleeds, sore throats and headaches.
After shutting down more than a dozen years ago, however, most local residents did not give much more than a passing thought to any lasting environmental damage the plant may have caused.
However, as reported by The New York Times, that all changed recently, after several private water wells near the old plant tested positive for an industrial chemical that has been tied to thyroid disease, serious pregnancy complications and cancer.
‘I think when people look they’re going to find it’
The Times reported further:
“It started across the New York border in the village of Hoosick Falls, where the discovery of the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, in the public drinking water has prompted residents to rely on bottled water amid charges that the state took far too long to respond. It was found in public wells in Petersburgh, N.Y., the site of a plastics factory south of Hoosick Falls.”
Just days ago, as environmental officials in Vermont and New York launched statewide efforts to locate additional potentially contaminated areas, officials in Merrimack, New Hampshire, home to still another chemical plant, said that the same chemical compound had been found there as well.
“From an environmental perspective, we kind of fell asleep at the wheel when it came to those components,” Kiah Morris, the Vermont state representative whose legislative district includes Bennington, told The Times. “There’s things we didn’t know, and there’s things we hoped we wouldn’t find out.”
Experts believe that the number of people who have been drinking PFOA-tainted water is likely to grow. Once used in the manufacture of products considered to be modern conveniences, like nonstick cookware, microwaveable popcorn wrappers and Gore-Tex boots – just about anything that is nonstick, water repellent and resists stains – the chemical’s health effects and the way it spreads in the environment are not really understood. And, as it continues to contaminate water around the country, say scientists, government at all levels – from local health departments to the Environmental Protection Agency – will at some point have to grapple with the full extent of the problem, as well as what it may take to clean it up.
“I think when people look they’re going to find it,” Arlene Blum, the executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, told the paper.
‘We were kind of young and foolish’
Currently, Vermont officials are sampling some 185 private wells in North Bennington, all of which are within a 1.5-mile radius of the former ChemFab plant, which shut down in 2002. Officials have been distributing bottled water, and – though only an imperfect and temporary solution – carbon-filtration systems have been installed on some of the tainted wells.
“Every time I think about it, I just feel like crying,” said Virginia Barber, 64, owner and resident of a small, white house overlooking the factory. Her well was one of the first in the small village to test positive for PFOA.
She and her husband, along with their two dogs, are drinking bottled water, and she says she’s not even sure if she should bathe the dogs in the tainted water. Showers have been cut short, and she isn’t positive she ought to be rinsing pasta and other foods with the well water.
Husband, David Barber, 67, worked at the plant for 21 years, coating fabrics in Teflon material. He says he remembers seeing small specks of the material getting stuck on the ends of cigarettes smoked by co-workers, before turning to ash as the smokers inhaled that as well. And, within a couple of hours, he says the smokers would get chills and sweats, as if they were coming down with the flu.
“We were kind of young and foolish,” he said. “We never really talked about it; we never really thought too much about it. It paid good, and they treated us fairly well.”
Written by J.D. Heyes
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