Lawmakers urge Scott to sign PFOA-inspired bill

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BENNINGTON — Members of the Bennington County delegation are urging Gov. Phil Scott to sign S.103, a bill that originated after PFOA contamination was discovered in groundwater here around two former ChemFab Corp. plants.

The legislation, proposed by Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, passed the Senate and House late last month and was officially sent to the governor's office on Tuesday. Scott then had five days to either sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature, Campion said, but the governor hasn't announced his intention.

The governor's office did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

The letter, which was signed by eight members of the Bennington County delegation, states in part: "We've seen first-hand the harm that toxic chemical exposure can cause to Vermont families — harm to their health, reduced property values, increased medical bills, and increased risk of developing diseases in the future."

It adds, "The crisis of discovering drinking water in some of our homes in North Bennington and Bennington contained high levels of the cancer-causing chemical PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) highlighted the gaps in protections for Vermonters from toxic chemicals."

An inter-agency committee

The bill gives an Interagency Committee on Chemical Management the authority to annually identify unregulated chemicals of concern and recommend rules or legislation to reduce the effects of toxic substances on human health or the environment.

The letter notes that the Legislature created a working group after the contamination was discovered in early 2016 to develop policy recommendations to reduce exposure of residents to toxic chemicals, and that Scott "stepped up to create an inter-agency committee on chemical management last summer via executive order."

In the letter, the lawmakers said they believe "that putting this inter-agency committee into statute in S.103 ensures its longevity beyond your administration, and creates a feedback loop directly to the Legislature so we can take action on the committee's recommendations."

The inter-agency committee would include a member of the House and Senate; the secretaries of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, Health, Labor, Public Safety and Commerce and Community Development departments, and the commissioner of information. The provisions would take effect on July 1.

The bill was proposed after the discovery of widespread PFOA contamination of hundreds of wells in Bennington and North Bennington, believed by state officials to have spread through stack emissions from the two former ChemFab factories.

Since it was first introduced, a controversial provision in the bill — on liability for businesses that use toxic or hazardous materials was separated out — into S.197. That bill has cleared the Senate while facing stiff opposition from lobbyists and organizations representing industries, and is now before the House.

S.197 would hold companies liable for the release of toxic substances.

Other provisions of S.103 include that the Committee on Chemical Management would have a citizen advisory panel with expertise in chemical management and health; review federal action under the Toxic Substances Control Act and its effects on Vermont law, and annually review chemical inventories to identify unregulated chemicals of concern.

And the committee would report annually to the Legislature regarding chemical inventories and recommend rules or legislation to reduce the effects of toxic substances on human health and the environment.

In its first report to the Legislature, the committee must recommend legislation to establish a centralized electronic chemical reporting system for businesses. The group also is required to amend state record-keeping and reporting requirements about chemical use, including thresholds for reporting, persons subject to record-keeping and ways to streamline reporting.

The legislation also requires any new groundwater source to be tested by the owner or the entity that controls the source for specified chemicals prior to use as a well. Among chemicals to be tested are arsenic, lead, uranium, gross alpha radiation; total coliform bacteria, nitrate, fluoride and manganese.

Among changes added in the House are a requirement for manufacturers of children's products containing a chemical of concern to children to report the brand name, product model and product code, if available. And the bill allows the commissioner of health to add a new chemical to the list on the basis of independent peer reviewed research.

Campion said late Thursday that he is unsure exactly when the five-day period for Scott to sign the bill will expire and will check on Friday with the Office of Legislative Council.

Those lawmakers signing the April 10 letter from Campion and Sen. Dick Sears to the governor include area Reps. Mary Morrissey, Kiah Morris, Rachael Fields and Timothy Corcoran, of Bennington; Bill Botzow, of Pownal, and Alice Miller, of Shaftsbury.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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