MONTPELIER — The Vermont House has approved a bill, prompted by the discovery of PFOA in Bennington's water, that provides for stricter regulation of toxic substances.
"The bottom line is that Vermonters deserve to know what toxic substances they are exposing themselves and their families to," said Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson in a statement on Thursday. "This bill takes a modest but important step to better protect Vermonters, especially our children, from toxic chemicals."
The bill approved last week, S.103, is a version of a bill introduced last year following the discovery of PFOA contamination of drinking water in wells of Bennington residents.
The House version is a pared-down version of the original 81-page toxic substances regulation bill, which was introduced by Sens. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, and Ginny Lyons, D-Williston, along with eight others, last year. One of the sections, which was cut last year — making individuals and businesses liable for releasing toxic chemicals — was revived this year as S.197, which recently passed the Senate.
The version of S.103 that won House approval this year establishes an Interagency Committee on Chemical Management, made up of legislators and representatives of state agencies. The committee, in conjunction with a panel of expert citizen advisers, will come up with ways to accurately assess "chemical inventories" in Vermont. It also will keep track of federal laws pertaining to toxic substances, as well as emerging research on chemical regulations in Vermont.
The committee also will update reporting of the list of chemicals, as required by Vermont's existing Toxic Use Reduction and Hazardous Waste Reduction Act, and advise on what chemicals or hazardous waste should be reported to the state.
Among the requirements of S.103 is that new sources of drinking water be tested before use.
"When we [told] the children of Vermont that we would protect them from toxic chemicals, we can't wait until `yes, we know they have been exposed,'" said Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, during the reading of proposed amendments to the bill, on the House floor Thursday. "We need to prevent the exposures and that is what we're doing here in S.103."
One amendment, proposed by Rep. Paul Poirier, I-Barre City, altered slightly state statutes regarding the disclosure of "chemicals of high concern to children" in consumer products, granting the commissioner of health authority to add to the list of chemicals of "high concern to children" on the basis of "independent, peer-reviewed" scientific research, instead of "credible" research.
Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, arguing in favor of using peer-reviewed research, said, "Consumers are reliant on the work that we do here in order to make sure they are making sound decisions and understand very clearly the impacts of chemicals in products that they are bringing into the lives of their children."
As for whether Gov. Phil Scott will sign S.103 into law, Rebecca Kelley, Scott's spokesperson, said on Friday that the governor does support "clear and robust regulations in this field" — on the one hand.
"He does, however, have some concerns, particularly with certain provisions that would serve to nullify a stakeholder working group established in Act 188 of 2014, so he'll have to take a look at a final bill when it comes to his desk," Kelley said.