Scott creates panel to study management of toxic chemicals

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Gov. Phil Scott announced Tuesday that he's forming a committee to study the management of harmful chemicals, following recommendations from a previous toxic chemicals working group.

The state of Vermont currently doesn't have the information it needs to respond effectively to emergencies and health threats posed by chemicals in use in industries in the state, Scott said in the executive order that formed the committee.

The Interagency Committee on Chemical Management that Scott created was one of a dozen actions recommended by a working group formed by Act 154, passed in 2016.

That working group made a dozen recommendations in addition to the creation of the committee that Scott formed.

Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, attempted during the last legislative session to put all of those recommendations — including formation of the interagency committee — into law through a bill titled S.103.

That bill failed to pass late in this year's legislative session after industry groups lobbied against it, but could be revived when lawmakers return in January.

Scott opposed the bill, but his staffers said the governor wasn't responsible for killing it.

S.103 faced staunch opposition from manufacturers and from chemical industry representatives, who said state regulators could use it to "cherry pick" scientific information in order to institute unfair restrictions on businesses.

Among other things, the bill would have given Vermonters additional legal tools to hold companies responsible for harmful pollution.

Campion's bill, along with Act 154, came after it was discovered that hundreds of wells in the Bennington area were tainted by perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a toxic substance and carcinogen. Regulators determined the source was a plant once owned by former Teflon-product manufacturer Chemfab.

Many Bennington residents who were exposed to PFOA through their drinking water worry that the laws now in place in Vermont will make it almost impossible to successfully sue Chemfab's parent company, French multinational Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, over illnesses and other harms that may result from the pollution.

Campion's bill would have had the Interagency Committee on Chemical Management deliver a report to legislators detailing how to create an electronic reporting system for chemicals in use within the state. The committee would have also detailed known chemical inventories in the state, identified new or emerging chemicals of high concern, and recommended legislative actions to reduce health risks associated with chemicals used inside the state.

Scott's Interagency Committee on Chemical Management will recommend to him how to improve record keeping on chemicals. It will also evaluate chemical inventories in the state, identify risks, and make recommendations to the governor on steps to reduce those risks.

The group will also recommend to Scott how to create a unified electronic reporting system for chemicals used in Vermont, and recommend changes to existing law that might help with record keeping.

The ICCM will also recommend potential legislative or regulatory fixes to protect Vermonters from certain specified harmful chemicals.

Campion said Scott's committee was an important development.

"There are still a bunch of things to do around liabilities, and making sure Vermonters have the tools to protect themselves if something does happen," he said. He added that he hoped to continue to work on the bill, which he acknowledged may need some changes, and that he hoped to win the governor's support.

"I'm confident the governor's going to work with us to finish it up," he said.

Vermont Conservation Voters hailed the committee as a good step, but one of many needing to be taken.

"Vermont Conservation Voters supports Gov. Scott's proposal to begin work on better coordinating existing toxic chemical programs and identifying ways to better inform Vermonters about chemicals in their communities," said the group's political director, Lauren Hierl. "However, with tens of thousands of untested chemicals on the market and real harm being felt in our communities today — as highlighted by the PFOA drinking water contamination in several Vermont towns — it's clear that we need further action as soon as possible."

The Interagency Committee on Chemical Management will consist of seven agency heads in Scott's administration.


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