Warren Elementary School staff, students and parents are right to be concerned about the news that the school’s water supply exceeded state standards for PFAS, a class of chemical used in many manufacturing and industrial processes that is linked to adverse health effects.

PFAS, a group that includes PFOAS, PFOS and PFHPA, were found in the Warren Elementary School well in amounts totally 36.6 parts per trillion. The state standard is 20 parts per trillion. PFOAS were found extensively in private wells in Bennington and North Bennington linked to two former ChemFab Corporation plants and the St. Gobain company.

The Warren problem was discovered thanks to a pilot program undertaken by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation in which the water supplies of 10 schools were tested.

Given the widespread use of PFAS and ease of their migration into wells and groundwater it would be wise to test all school water supplies in the state, and local officials are asking that question as well: Should all schools in the district be tested? That is exercising due caution and concern.

Response, though, should also be measured. For good or for bad (and that’s up to the federal government to decide as PFAS are not regulated in the manufacturing process – although states can set standards for public water supplies) these chemicals are in thousands of products that all of us use every day throughout our day. Detergents, floor cleaning products, dental floss, toothpastes, cosmetics, carpeting, camping tents, nonstick pans and utensils and so much more.

The prevalence of these chemicals in products we use every day doesn’t mean we should not be concerned about finding them in water that schoolchildren and staff drink. It means we have to take the appropriate action to fix the problem as expeditiously as possible. And it also means, for us as consumers, that we need to make smart decisions about what brands to support and voice our concerns about chemicals to manufacturers, being prepared to vote with our feet and wallets as necessary. 

As citizens of a state and country where we might rightfully expect the state and federal government to protect us from the adverse impacts of chemicals used in manufacturing, voting is our best recourse.