NORTH BENNINGTON — While elevated levels of PFOA have been found in more than 100 private wells in Bennington and North Bennington in the last month, almost as many water filtration systems, which will remove the contaminant, will have been installed by the end of next week.
There are already more than 50 of the devices, known as POET systems — for Point Of Entry Treatment — in place in local homes.
Everett Windover, owner of the Vermont office of Culligan Water Technologies, said that in the upcoming week there will be six teams dedicated just to installing POET systems locally. Windover expects another 40 systems in place by the end of this week.
The POET systems are designed to remove PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical linked to health problems including some forms of cancer.
The PFOA is believed to have come from the ChemFab manufacturing site on Water Street in North Bennington. New owners Saint-Gobain moved the plant out of state in 2002, but elevated levels of PFOA were found in the last month in private wells.
No PFOA has been found in the municipal water in Bennington or North Bennington.
State officials and local residents say they want to resolve the problem by connecting everyone to the municipal water system but until that happens, those residents with contaminated water, which the state has urged them not to drink or use for cooking or brushing their teeth, are receiving POET systems.
Saint-Gobain has agreed to pay to install and maintain the systems.
Windover said all of the POET systems will be essentially the same model. The installation requires an area of about 3 feet by 5 feet and the tanks are about 5 feet high.
The initial installation takes about four to seven hours but that follows a site visit to explain the system to homeowners and identify the best place to put it.
The filtration system takes the water from the well and runs it through what Windover called a quad-density, four-layer filter. The outer edges of the filter take out the larger items or what Windover calls the “logs.”
Inside the lead tank, granulated, activated carbon and acid-washed material pick up chemicals like PFOA and volatile organic compounds.
The water is monitored at three points to be sure it’s clean. Windover said those points are where it comes into the filtration system, so technicians know how many chemicals are in the water and coming into the system; after the lead tank, to identify when the filter in the lead tank is exhausted; and when the water leaves the second tank, to ensure the customer is getting water free of PFOA.
The second tank, or lag tank, will pick up any residual contaminants.
After running through the tanks, the water passes under an ultraviolet light that will remove other organic contaminants. Because PFOA is a man-made chemical, the ultraviolet light, while being used as a precaution, is not expected to be part of the PFOA removal process.
Culligan representatives will change the filters for customers every four months. A more thorough maintenance check and the replacement of the ultraviolet light will take place annually.
Those services are also being paid by Saint-Gobain.
The filter cartridges don’t actually absorb the PFOA. Instead, it is held by the carbon bed in the tanks. When the beds are “exhausted,” the tanks will be changed.
The old carbon beds are taken back to the manufacturer where they are recycled and reused but not, Windover said, put into a landfill or otherwise discarded in a way that could send the contaminants back into the environment.
The Culligan company has to maintain something of a balancing act. They’re installing POET systems into the homes of North Bennington residents but the bills are being paid by Saint-Gobain.
Windover said he believed things are working out well so far. He said he’s confident Saint-Gobain planned to support the POET systems for as long as they’re needed.
“That was my discussion yesterday with Saint-Gobain. The key thing is that one of the reasons they’re doing business with us is they need to be assured that we’re with them for the long haul. The last thing they want to do is be situated with a company that’s not going to maintain the whole package,” he said.
Homeowner Sandra Hewson-Loveland said she was happy with the state’s quick response to the discovery of PFOA in her well water.
“The word ‘trust’ is a big thing in my book. … I’m thankful that they brought bottled water. They provided us with everything they could to get us through it. At least they didn’t wait,” she said.
Hewson-Loveland said she’s concerned about the presumed solution because she doesn’t want to be connected to municipal water. She said she prefers the taste of the well water she has now.
One of the residents who was already a Culligan customer, Hewson-Loveland said she’s been “more than content” with their service.