Kim Caldwell of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VTDEC) spoke to the Warren Select Board this week about testing at Warren School for polyfluoroalkyl substances, or “PFAS.” PFAS were found in the drinking water at Warren School in 2018 during a pilot study of several schools. The chemicals can lead to negative health effects, such as asthma, cancer and stunting children’s growth and development. PFAS can be found in products like floor waxes and cleaners, in addition to being found in groundwater. A second test in 2018 came back below the state’s threshold for PFAS. The carbon filtration system that was installed at the school was found to successfully remove PFAS. Additional testing was put on hold until funding was secured. This came after the school was temporarily closed in 2017 due to black mold and asbestos in the school.
Back in 2008, improvements were made to the Warren School’s water system by Kingsbury Construction. The project included a new water storage reservoir, water lines, standby chlorination system, interior plumbing improvements, electrical control improvements and miscellaneous appurtenances.
Caldwell said additional testing is needed to determine the extent of the contamination in groundwater at the site. The playground is a former leach field, which she speculated was the source of the problem. The board approved contracting with Atlas Technical Consultants to do additional testing at the site. There is no cost associated with the testing, although it is not known at this time whether there will be costs for improvements needed once testing has been done. Testing will be done imminently.
“A drinking water treatment system has been in place at the school since August 2018 and VTDEC has been maintaining that system and collecting quarterly samples since then,” Caldwell said. “VTDEC has also conducted a site investigation at the school and identified PFAS in shallow groundwater samples collected from monitoring wells installed near the school’s former leach field.
VTDEC also conducted an assessment of the school’s well to evaluate the well construction, location of fractures and to collect samples from various intervals in the well. The work has been on pause for a while, but we are going back now to further delineate the PFAS in shallow groundwater (installing more monitoring wells around the former leach field) and to resample some private wells in the area. No private wells in the area have been found to contain PFAS above the drinking water standard.”
This comes as the state plans to test all schools in the state built before 1980 (about 300 schools across Vermont) for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the wake of discovering the substances at Burlington High School. The question for the HUUSD Board is when this testing will happen and how it will impact the renovations and improvements slated for the Harwood Union High School building if the November 2 vote on a $59.5 million bond passes.
Rob Montgomery of ATC Associates, a Williston-based consultant firm, spoke to the HUUSD Board about PCB testing on October 13. He said if PCBs are found in the school, remediation and/or mitigation measurements will need to be taken.
“If you sample materials in the renovation area, improvements could include areas you didn’t necessarily plan to” update, he said. He said remediation efforts could cost about $50/square foot. “It seems likely this will be a tidal wave of problems for us,” board chair Torrey Smith said. The timeline of testing has yet to be determined.