The discovery of toxic PFAS-contaminated drinking water in Bennington County in 2016 highlighted systemic problems with toxic chemicals in Vermont.
This class of chemicals, PFAS (per- and polyfluorinatedalkyl substances – the “Teflon” chemicals), persist in the environment indefinitely, and are correlated with a range of negative health outcomes including high blood pressure, thyroid disease, and kidney and testicular cancers. PFAS contamination is being discovered at hundreds of sites around the country, impacting the drinking water of millions of Americans.
Unfortunately, PFAS is not the only toxic chemical in use. Tens of thousands of chemicals are registered for use in the U.S. without adequate health and safety testing. Even after public health concerns are identified, our federal laws fail to regulate the use of known toxic chemicals. To address this gap, Vermont has enacted a number of laws through the years to ban harmful chemicals in consumer products, and to require reporting of chemicals of high concern in children’s products (Act 188).
Given the lack of federal action to reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals, however, Vermont must continue working to improve protections for our families’ health and the environment, including our birds, fish, and wildlife. Following the PFAS contamination discovery in Bennington, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 154 in 2016 to establish a Chemical Use Working Group. This group recommended a series of policy improvements to better protect our families and communities from exposure to toxic chemicals.
Recent legislative victories
After meager progress in the 2017-2018 Legislative session, in 2019 Vermont enacted a number of policies that reduce Vermonters’ potential exposure to harmful chemicals, such as by requiring testing for the neurotoxin lead in the drinking water in all Vermont schools, and banning the unnecessary use of firefighting foam that contains cancer-causing PFAS chemicals. Find a rundown below.
Toxic chemicals in children’s products
Legislation that will better protect children from toxic chemicals (S.55) had very strong votes in the Legislature in 2018 – 25-5 in the Senate and 137-4 in the House – and this helped convince the Governor to sign the bill, despite vetoing similar legislation last year. This bill will improve the existing state program that provides parents with information on toxic chemicals in children’s products, and improve the process for regulating the use of harmful chemicals in our kids’ products. We will be working with the Department of Health to ensure successful implementation.
A bill that requires testing and cleanup of any lead contamination in drinking water in all Vermont schools and childcare facilities (S.40) passed the Legislature 138-3 in the House and 27-0 in the Senate, and was signed by the Governor. We will be watchdogging the bill’s implementation to ensure all our children, teachers, and staff are drinking water at school that’s safe from lead contamination.
PFAS in drinking water
Governor Scott signed into law a bill (S.49) addressing cancer-causing PFAS chemicals. This bill requires the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to test all public drinking water supplies and develop drinking water and surface water standards for PFAS chemicals, to help ensure our water is healthy and safe.
PFAS is the class of toxic chemicals that were discovered in Vermont drinking water wells, and pose significant threats to public health and the environment. We are working with ANR to push for a strong monitoring program so we can better understand where PFAS contamination exists in the state, and to ensure swift adoption of health-protective PFAS drinking water regulations.
Another bill signed by the Governor will start to address the dramatic rise in single-use plastics and the associated harms to human health and the environment. S.113 restricts the use of single-use plastic bags; requires that plastic straws only be offered on demand; and bans expanded polystyrene foam (what is often called styrofoam).
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