The town of Hinesburg, amid rising tension among residents, applied for a grant through the state revolving loan program last week, a small step towards remedying the increasingly disconcerting problem of contaminated drinking water emanating from the town landfill.

The selectboard approved the loan application after more than a dozen residents came out to their March 1 meeting to request continual testing for 18 residential properties to the south of the landfill — which an environmental consultant group hired by the town confirmed in a report is leaching dangerous chemicals and other harmful contaminants.

“The town is trying to do the right thing, we acknowledge that,” said Janet Francis, one of the property owners near the landfill. “(But) we need to be sure that we do more — that all of the houses in our neighborhood meet the safe water standards that have been set.”

The grant application, through Vermont’s water and wastewater revolving loan fund program, will hopefully give the town some direction as to how to address the situation: should the town purchase point-of-entry treatment, or POET, systems to treat all the contaminated houses, should it extend the town water system up to the area, or do something else entirely.

“I hope you know we’re doing everything that we possibly can to address this issue,” Merrily Lovell, the chair of the Hinesburg Selectboard, said.

High levels poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS — were found in the drinking water of two more residential homes last month, about two years after the town and state first discovered two wells serving a private residence and the town garage had high levels of methylene chloride and PFAS.

PFAS, referred to as “forever chemicals,” have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, immune system damage and other serious problems. It is becoming an increasingly urgent problem across the country, as more than 2,800 communities in at least nine states have found the contaminants in their water, according to information from the Environmental Working Group in Washington D.C.

The White House last week advanced a proposal to impose new drinking water limits on specific forms of PFAS.

The story of why Hinesburg’s 38-acre landfill continues to leach these chemicals — and how it was never officially capped and sealed off — remains a mystery. The state conducted annual testing of properties nearby for some 20 years through 2009, and paperwork for the landfill’s closure certification ended up missing — both on the state and town’s end.

The property operated from 1972 until 1988, receiving solid waste from both Hinesburg and Richmond. It was eventually closed and sealed off with a permanent chemical-resistant plastic sheet in 1992 to contain any contaminants.

Residents packed in the town meeting area last week argued that the volatility of the groundwater — the fact that detection levels of PFAS and other chemicals has been changing over both a short- and long-term period — shows that the town and the environmental consultant group it hired, Stone Environmental, should be testing as many homes as they can.

One Beecher Hill Road resident, Ken Hurd, had PFAS levels below the state limit in the spring of 2022 — and had even lower limits in November 2021 — but six months later was having a POET system installed after discovering high levels in his water.

Francis said that Stone Environmental doesn’t “seem to be exactly sure of what is present where, or what the conditions of the soils and rocks are that might direct contamination in unexpected ways — contaminants that were thought to flow to the southeast show up in the west and no one can fully predict or guarantee where any of the contaminate might go in the future.”

Another property, she said, had methylene chloride under state limits in 2009, but 12 years later levels exceeded those limits and it now also has a monitoring system.

“How many years did the residents of that home drink water containing methylene chloride unknowingly?” she said.

“The testing list is not sufficient, clearly,” Hurd said.

The environmental group in its recent report acknowledged that the extent of migration has not been defined and recommended testing four new homes for contamination. If exceeding limits are found there, the perimeter of testing would be expanded further to include more adjacent properties.

Adding four more homes is a good thing, Francis said, “but it just doesn’t include the five properties that now adjoin the most recent home that exceed the PFAS limit, and these five homeowners need to know if the contamination has spread to their own water supply.”

At least one selectboard member, Phil Pouech, has said the town should expand testing no matter what the cost, and suggested using ARPA money to help fund the expense. But the mushrooming costs of treatment is already putting financial pressure on a town that is seeing falling revenue.

Expanding testing now, Lovell said, would be a “huge cost” for the town “which is why we’re following the science that stone environmental is doing.”

But Lovell noted that no decisions have been made and said that town officials need to take in information shared during the meeting before deciding.

“This is a lot to think about, it’s a very serious issue. We’ll let you know when we come to an idea of a next step,” she said. “We didn’t cause it, but it’s in our laps, and we have to deal with it — in a way that’s ethical and fair to everybody.”

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