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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Report: Trace of PFAS Detected in Shelburne Water

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 6:41 PM

FILE: MICHAEL TONN
  • File: Michael Tonn
A new report on the state of America’s drinking water supply is again highlighting the problem of “forever chemicals” in the environment, including a recent positive test result from drinking water in Shelburne.

The Guardian newspaper teamed up with Consumer Reports to sample 120 water systems in the nation, and found that almost all of them — 118 of 120 — had detectable levels of lead, arsenic or PFAS chemicals found in household products from cookware to rugs.

Included in the report was a noteworthy test result from Shelburne that indicated PFAS levels of 5.77 parts per trillion. That’s well below the federal advisory level of 70 parts per trillion and Vermont’s more stringent 20 parts per trillion level.

But it is more than has been reported by the water system serving much of Shelburne, the Champlain Water District, raising questions about how the contaminant made it into the sample.

“We don’t have any PFAS detected in our source water,” said Joseph Duncan, general manager of the Champlain Water District.

The district delivers drinking water from Shelburne Bay to 75,000 people in eight towns, including South Burlington, Essex and Milton.

The district samples for PFAS both at its treatment plant on Queen City Park Road and at points in the water distribution network, but not in people’s homes, he said. 

Tests performed in 2019 and in 2020 both came back as “non-detect,” meaning the sample has less than 2 parts per trillion, and the five PFAS compounds Vermont regulates were considered not detected. The Guardian story also included a result of 1.74 parts per trillion from Bennington, but that falls below what is considered detectable by the state.

Complicating the issue is that the sampling regimen utilized by the publications relied on volunteers, and the conditions under which the water sample was taken could not be confirmed.

PFAS chemicals are prevalent in clothing and a range of consumer goods, and sampling must be done with precision, Duncan noted.

“At the parts-per-trillion level, you have to be very careful with how you collect the sample in order to not cross-contaminate it and wind up with a false positive,” Duncan said.

He stressed he was not questioning the competence of the volunteers or the value of the reporting, and said he supports greater public awareness of water quality issues. Nevertheless, a single data point from an unknown origin that doesn’t align with the district’s own regular sampling results makes drawing conclusions difficult, he said.

Water quality advocate James Ehlers said he found it telling that the district was sampling at the source and not at the point that really matters to customers — the tap.

“I think the way that you sample, in large part, can determine the results that you get,” Ehlers said. “It’s really easy not to find something you’re not looking for.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation required water systems in Vermont to test for the five PFAS chemicals it regulates following the 2016 discovery of widespread contamination of groundwater in Bennington.

A toxin called perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA, was detected in private wells near a North Bennington manufacturing plant once operated by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. Among other fines, the company has agreed to pay $25 million to extend municipal water service.

The subsequent testing has turned up 10 water systems in the state, most of them small, that have had results above the 20 ppt standard since 2019. They range from Mount Holly School at 323 parts per trillion to others like the Killington Village Inn at 20.03 parts per trillion. The state is helping the systems perform the testing and fund fixes where possible.

Water systems aren’t the only places where the class of chemicals is turning up. Contamination from the Vermont National Guard Base in South Burlington is reaching the Winooski River, as Seven Days reported in 2019.

For years, soldiers trained with and used firefighting foam containing PFAS, which seeped into the ground and reached groundwater. The Guard has spent millions on cleanup and monitoring efforts that are expected to last years.

Ehlers says a more aggressive response is needed.

“The state needs to be taking this as seriously as it took COVID,” Ehlers said.

There is a bill in the legislature, S.20, that seeks to restrict the sale of consumer products containing PFAS, including some firefighting foam, food packaging, rugs, ski wax and children's toys.

Ehlers says the bill doesn’t go far enough, and should also ban all fluorinated firefighting foams and force landfills to contain their leachate.

Despite the water quality challenges of Lake Champlain, Shelburne Bay is a safe source of drinking water, Duncan said. The water is taken from two intake points in a trench 80-feet below the bay, where surface contamination rarely reaches, he said.

Shelburne Bay is fed by Potash Brook in South Burlington and the LaPlatte River in Shelburne, and contains roughly 3 billion gallons of water, so any PFAS flushing into it would be highly diluted, Duncan noted.

The contamination reported in the Guardian could have been introduced after the water left the lake, from sources such as waterproof tape wrapped around pipe fittings or materials in the fixtures themselves, he said.

While water sampling is generally best done by professionals, Duncan said he supports greater citizen awareness of the problem and legislative efforts to clamp down on PFAS products.

“The more we continue to produce materials with PFAS, the more prevalent it could potentially become in our environment and have the potential to work its way into different water sources,” Duncan said.

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Vermont Extends Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause Through April 23

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 1:13 PM

A patient receiving a vaccine dose - CATEYEPERSPECTIVE | DREAMSTIME
  • Cateyeperspective | Dreamstime
  • A patient receiving a vaccine dose
Updated on April 16, 2021.

Following federal guidance, Vermont is extending a "pause" on administering COVID-19 vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson through at least April 23.

The Vermont Department of Health announced the move Thursday. It comes after members of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel met on Wednesday and said they needed more time to review a possible link between the vaccine and an extremely rare type of blood clot.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Burlington High School Could Be Demolished After More Contamination Found

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2021 at 8:20 PM

Warnings at Burlington High School - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Warnings at Burlington High School
A series of tests have revealed extensive chemical contamination on Burlington High School’s campus that could necessitate a complete tear down.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, superintendent Tom Flanagan said that cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been detected in the buildings’ window caulking, block and brick walls, floor-tile adhesive and concrete foundation — as well as in the air and in the soil under and surrounding the school.

“Unfortunately, at each step of the process, we find more materials with PCBs,” Flanagan told the school board. “I’m growing increasingly uneasy about the extent of PCB contamination.”

He said that remediation of the chemicals would cost an estimated $7 million to $12 million — and even that might not reduce the levels of airborne PCBs to below what the state has deemed safe.

The chemicals were found last year as the district prepared for a voter-approved $70 million project to overhaul the high school and the tech center.

But the district shuttered much of the campus, located off of North Avenue in the city’s New North End, the day before classes were to begin last September after testing showed PCBs in some of the buildings.

Queen City high schoolers learned almost fully remotely until March, when they began attending classes two days a week at a former Macy’s department store downtown. The school district funded a renovation of the building and is operating there under a three-and-a-half-year lease it signed in December.
Once a Macy's, now a school - FILE: CAT CUTILLO ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Cat Cutillo ©️ Seven Days
  • Once a Macy's, now a school
Initially, district leaders thought it would take until late summer to figure out the extent of the PCB contamination and decide how to move forward. But Flanagan said that the latest testing results should spur the board to make a decision as early as next month.

“The purpose of tonight really is to make very clear that there’s a serious problem in this project, and we need to take action sooner rather than later,” he told the 12-member school board on Tuesday.
Board members expressed their concerns about the most recent findings.

“Obviously we’ve been trying to patch a sinking ship, so what is it going to take for you guys to let us know this is actually the Titanic?” said school commissioner Jean Waltz. “It just seems like it’s getting worse.”

Commissioner Jeff Wick flagged the high costs for PCB mitigation and suggested that it was time to “stop the bleed” by abandoning the $70 million renovation and moving forward with a plan to build an entirely new high school.

Unclear is whether a new school would — or could — be built on the current campus, or at a different city location.

“I’m sitting here having an anxiety attack because I’m thinking, Where would we go?” commissioner Martine Gulick said. “Maybe you all have information that I don’t have, but that scares me.”

Tom Peterson, a consultant hired to oversee the $70 million renovation project, suggested it could be problematic to build a new high school on the current site. Even if PCB mitigation can be handled cost-effectively, the Institute Road campus is 57 years old and, with PCBs in the soil and in the air, there would be long-term costs for monitoring the buildings and potentially additional remediation.
Building a new facility at a different location would be “a huge lift,” he said, but “at the end of that, you will have a beautiful new high school.”

Flanagan capped the discussion by addressing the board. “It’s no one’s fault that we’re here,” the superintendent said. “We learned about this problem through doing our due diligence.”

As leaders, he said, the school commissioners are being tasked with making hard decisions.

“There are ways out of this and into a high school that we can be proud of,” said Flanagan, “and we need to stay positive and optimistic and know that it’s our responsibility to keep our community safe, and to keep doing this work together.”

The school board’s Building Construction Oversight Committee is scheduled to meet at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday to discuss the issue further.

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Pension Task Force Bill Advances Despite Unions' Objections

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2021 at 7:03 PM

JESS SUTTNER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • JESS SUTTNER ©️ Seven Days
Nearly two weeks after Democratic leaders shelved plans to tackle pension reform this legislative session, plans for a task force charged with tackling the issue this summer are taking shape.

A bill approved Wednesday by the House Government Operations Committee would create a 15-member Pension Design and Funding Task Force to generate ideas for fixing the state’s ailing pension system.

The bill would also add three new members to the existing seven-member committee focused on pension investments, which has come under legislative scrutiny for the investments' poor investment returns.

Taken together, the measures would tweak the pension governance structure this legislative session while putting off until next year the more controversial changes to future benefits and contribution rates for the state’s current 17,300 employees and teachers.

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Burlington Airport Readies for Direct Flights to Boston, Dallas

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2021 at 3:48 PM

Burlington International Airport - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • Burlington International Airport
Gov. Phil Scott has all but promised Vermonters that by July 4, life will be much as it was before the pandemic — at least when it comes to crossing state borders.

Burlington International Airport is ready. On Wednesday, the airfield announced its first direct connection with Dallas, starting on July 3. And on April 7, the airport announced a direct connection with Boston, starting April 29. It will be the first time BTV has provided direct service to and from Boston since 2008.

“There seems to be a lot of pent-up demand,” said Gene Richards, the airport’s director of aviation.

BTV has seen a massive dip in passengers during the pandemic, particularly before the state started vaccinating residents in mid-December. Before COVID-19 came along, about 10,000 passengers came through the airport each week, a number that rose to 15,000 in the summers, said Richards. During the darkest days of 2020, that dwindled to as few as 800 a week, he said.

These days, with direct connections between Burlington and 10 cities, the airport is seeing about 5,000 passengers each week, according to Richards.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Vermont State Trooper, Former Police Officer Deny Assault Charges

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2021 at 9:30 PM

Mark Schwartz using his Taser during the incident that led to his arrest - BODY CAM FOOTAGE
  • Body cam Footage
  • Mark Schwartz using his Taser during the incident that led to his arrest
Two law enforcement officers pleaded not guilty this week to misdemeanor assault charges related to on-duty conduct.

Vermont State Police Trooper Robert Zink is accused of punching a handcuffed man in the head during a February arrest in Shaftsbury. Former St. Albans Police Department corporal Mark Schwartz was charged more than two years after he shocked a man with his Taser seconds after arriving on scene. Seven Days published police body camera footage of the incident more than a year ago.

Both citations were issued last week at the request of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, according to state police, which investigated the cases.

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Some Burlington Homeowners Shocked by Reappraisal Figures

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2021 at 8:56 PM

ZSOOOFIJA | DREAMSTIME
  • Zsooofija | Dreamstime
Shelly Waterman expected her home value would go up as a result of Burlington’s recent citywide reappraisal. But she was still surprised to see the final number on paper.

Her three-bedroom, one-bathroom ranch in the New North End was previously valued at $209,100. Its new value: $269,500, a $60,400 increase.

“To see your appraisal go up thousands — [for] many, $50,000 or more — really is shocking,” Waterman said.

The reappraisal was the city’s first since 2005 and is meant to ensure that all properties are assessed at fair market value. Property values have increased over time in Burlington’s high-demand housing market, but the tax burden isn’t equally distributed, according to City Assessor John Vickery.

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Vermont Suspends Johnson & Johnson Clinics After Feds Urge a Pause

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2021 at 11:13 AM

A patient receiving a vaccine dose - CATEYEPERSPECTIVE | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Cateyeperspective | Dreamstime.com
  • A patient receiving a vaccine dose
Updated at 4:50 p.m.

Vermont has followed federal recommendations to suspend the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, but officials delivered an upbeat message Tuesday at the administration's twice-weekly news briefing.

“This is a bump in the road in terms of the Johnson & Johnson pause,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported early Tuesday that six women between ages 18 and 48 suffered a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, six to 13 days after receiving the vaccination. More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been administered in the U.S. as of April 12, the CDC said.

The CDC recommended that states suspend Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, and Vermont is one of several that did so, officials said.

“But we’re still, even without the J&J vaccine, going to vaccinate more than 20,000 people this next week,” said the governor. “Think about how far we have come. Three to four months ago, we didn’t even have a vaccine in place. We should be proud of what we are doing. I believe J&J will be back online sooner rather than later.”

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Winooski Schools Will Keep Police Officer Next Year; Burlington Scales Back the Position

Posted By on Thu, Apr 8, 2021 at 9:25 PM

A student inside the Winooski school building in 2019 - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • A student inside the Winooski school building in 2019
After months of uncertainty, the Winooski School Board voted on Wednesday to keep a police officer at its school building next year. The 4-1 vote also called for the creation of a group that will make recommendations by November about the police position for the 2022-23 school year.

The vote came one day after neighboring Burlington voted to remove its two officers from city school buildings. While one position will be eliminated, the other officer will be stationed at the Burlington Police Department unless there’s an emergency. That officer will wear a polo shirt and khaki pants, known as a “soft” uniform, when coming to schools for scheduled events.

An 11-member School Safety Task Force met regularly from last October to February, then proposed 10 measures aimed at promoting equity and inclusion in the Burlington School District. The removal of the officers was one.

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BTV-Based Beta Technologies Inks Deal With UPS for Electric Aircraft

Posted By on Thu, Apr 8, 2021 at 2:10 PM

An Alia prototype - BETA TECHNOLOGIES
  • Beta Technologies
  • An Alia prototype
Updated at 7:20 p.m.

South Burlington-based startup Beta Technologies has a deal with United Parcel Service to sell up to 150 of its experimental electric aircraft to the logistics company.

The agreement announced on Wednesday is a milestone for the Vermont company and for the emerging industry of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs, which promises to reduce fuel emissions and enable new methods of transport.

“A purchase order from UPS really gives the team here, who's really focused on the mission of the business, an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the sustainability of aviation in the future,” founder and CEO Kyle Clark said in an interview.

UPS intends to use the aircraft for express delivery services in small- and mid-size markets, the company said in a press release, as part of an effort to transition away from fossil fuels.

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