MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A shuttered Williamstown dry-cleaning plant that was at the center of one of Vermont's first large-scale experiences with polluted groundwater almost 30 years ago is going to be torn down.
It's unclear when demolition will begin on the now-vacant building owned by the UniFirst Corp., but it will not end the company's responsibility for ongoing efforts to remove still-contaminated groundwater from the area around the plant.
"UniFirst owns the property and they own the liability for the contamination," said Gerold Noyes, an environmental engineer for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. "Whatever happens to the building itself doesn't really matter."
Noyes said he has overseen efforts to remove the contamination from the groundwater around the plant for the last 10 years and the levels of contamination have been going down, but it will still be years before it's all removed. A special treatment facility has been installed downhill of the plant that catches the groundwater and removes the chemicals.
Contamination levels are still above drinking water levels in some test wells on the UniFirst property, but all private wells in the area still in use are clean or the homes were long ago placed onto the Williamstown municipal water system. Tests on private wells in the area are conducted every few months, Noyes said.
Williamstown Town Manager Garrett Earls said Friday the town had capped the water line running to the plant and the soil was tested for chemicals when the line was dug up. No contamination was found, he said.
The Wilmington, Mass.-based UniFirst provides uniforms and protective clothing to more than 225,000 businesses in the United States and Canada from more than 200 locations.
Company spokesman Ken Tokarz said Friday the company official who oversees the Vermont plant was traveling and unavailable for comment.
The state Department of Health first found dry-cleaning chemicals in ground water around the plant, then known as Interstate Uniform, in 1983. The plant is located next door to Williamstown High School and uphill from the town elementary school. The source of the contamination was eventually traced to a faulty drain.
The discovery prompted a series of citizen protests.
The dry cleaning operation there was discontinued in the mid-1980s and until the last year or so UniFirst used the building as a storage facility.
But Williamstown Town Manager Garrett Earls said he knew of the plans to tear down the plant because the town was recently asked to cap the water line running to the plant. He said the soil was tested when the line was dug up, but no contamination was found.
"It hasn't been a topic of discussion around here. I've got a feeling after 27 almost 28 years, it's in the back of peoples' minds," Earls said
"I think the big deal is it's almost 21-grand in tax dollars" that will be lost, Earl said. "What's left is the lot and what tax is that going to be? That's probably the biggest impact as far as the town goes."