“On Tuesday, state agencies had the opportunity to discuss their responses to this rapidly emerging and growing PFAS dilemma we are facing as a region. The learning curve was uniformly steep, and it was clear each state had worked diligently to manage both a lack of resources and information in their responses to increasing community concern. One state nailed it.
The response from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation to the discovery of PFAS contamination in Bennington was remarkable. Its strategy was to be: transparent, proactive and responsive to community concerns. Determined to ‘get this right,’ within two hours of the discovery of contamination, the governor held a press conference. Within days, he met with the impacted residents to answer questions.
Regulators shared what they knew, when they knew it and when asked questions they did not have the answers for they weren’t afraid to say so. Communication was frequent and ongoing. They didn’t wait for well testing results to act; they simply assumed an impact to the community and immediately provided water to residents. They set up an information center to answer continuing questions. They collaborated with the local university to conduct research and educate the community. As a result, they earned public trust through their compassionate and proactive approach and have successfully managed the PFAS contamination.
I was in awe of the straightforward success of simply doing what was right. Our experience in Greenland has been very different.
Notably, the parties responsible for the toxic contamination impacting the community living around the Coakley dump and key decision-makers regarding site remediation, the Coakley Landfill Group and the Portsmouth City Council, did not have a strong presence at this important and impactful two-day event. The only attendee I am aware of was Assistant Mayor Cliff Lazenby, who arrived after my community presentation regarding Coakley on Monday evening. The absence of Coakley Landfill Group and Portsmouth City Council representatives at the summit represents a lost opportunity to learn, grow and consider ways to manage PFAS contamination for their own impacted community.
These same responsible parties convened their own “public information” meeting June 7 in Portsmouth, during which information was misrepresented, questions submitted by the public were edited, redacted, or omitted, and “moderators” posed leading questions such as “wouldn’t it be worse if a pump and treat system were installed at Coakley,” to which the EPA would not comment. The moderators rephrased this key question several times in an attempt to get the desired answer to no avail.
The EPA has worked tirelessly to regain public trust in Greenland and has made great strides over the past several months. Perhaps the Coakley Landfill Group and the Portsmouth City Council could learn from their example.
Jillian Lane is a resident of Greenland.
Jillian Lane’s Coakley landfill presentation”
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