It's been months since the country first learned of the true devastation plaguing the water supply in Flint, Michigan. Negligence and a clear disregard for public health and safety have led to a generation or more of children there who will face the crippling effects of lead poisoning.
And so it should come as no surprise the alarm that was signaled in North Bennington when it was first discovered a few weeks ago that a handful of private wells had tested positive for contamination. In the weeks since, more wells have tested positive, with the drinking water for dozens of homes now at risk. The good news is that the municipal water system in North Bennington has been tested and shown no signs of contamination.
I have personally followed these events closely and directed my staff to stay close to the situation to evaluate the extent of the problem and possible remedies. This is happening just as the U.S. Senate continues to bicker back and forth about how – and, according to some senators, even if – the federal government should take a role in addressing the problems in Flint.
When I heard of the evolving problems in North Bennington, of course I thought first of the families that have been exposed to this potentially cancerous contamination. It is an impossible situation for even one or two families to confront; it is alarming to believe that water testing now shows an expanding area of concern.
The situation in North Bennington, while not having reached the scale and scope of Flint, is a wakeup call for everyone. I am relieved knowing that the State of Vermont has been in continuous contact not just with the local community and with Vermont's congressional delegation, but with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and with great coordination. These federal agencies have been responsive, and I will continue to work with them and state leaders to ensure that all involved continue to stay at the table in every way they can. Unlike in Flint, all concerned – including local leaders and federal officials — in North Bennington, there has not been the finger pointing and blame games that can leave a community wondering just who is looking out for them.
Months ago it was easy for most observers to believe that Flint was an isolated incident. But we need look no further than North Bennington to see how quickly water contamination can affect our neighbors. There is every indication that PFOA, the contamination in this case, may be causing problems all across the country. Congress must do more – and faster – to prevent this sort of contamination before it begins.
Bills like the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), first enacted 40 years ago can help ensure the safety of chemicals, from manufacture, to use, to disposal. The Senate has passed a strong TSCA reform bill, and I will push hard to see it become law this year. Legislation to help address the situation in Flint can also help support towns like North Bennington through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which supports a federal-state partnership to ensure safe drinking water infrastructure and innovation. These are federal partnership efforts that I support and that I am committed to fighting for in the weeks and months ahead.
Our work doesn't end when one crisis fades from the headlines. It must continue so another doesn't begin. On Capitol Hill I'll be working for Vermonters to ensure that our federal partners are here on the ground to support the people of North Bennington, and to ensure that communities across Vermont have true partners in the federal agencies charged with protecting us all.
— U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is the leading Democratic member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, which directs federal funding resources to programs like the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.