Chemical regulation bill prompted by PFOA contamination advances in Legislature

BENNINGTON — A bill regulating toxic substances in Vermont that was prompted by PFOA contamination of wells in Bennington is moving toward possible adoption in the Legislature.

S.103 has cleared the Senate with some additions proposed in the House, and supporters hope it will be approved without significant changes, said Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington.

He and fellow Bennington County Democrat, Sen. Dick Sears, are sponsors of the legislation.

The bill also passed the Senate last session before being sent back by the House with recommendations, the lawmakers said.

Additionally, a controversial provision on liability for businesses that use toxic or hazardous materials was stripped out before the bill was sent to the House and now is being considered separately, in S.197. That bill last week cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Sears chairs, but it faces strong opposition from lobbyists and organizations representing industries.

The original bill followed discovery in early 2016 of widespread PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) contamination of wells in Bennington, believed by the state to emanate from stack exhaust from two former ChemFab Corp. factories.

S.103 establishes an Interagency Committee on Chemical Management, including 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 if passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Scott, but the governor has already formed the group, Campion said.

"I don't know what the House will do, but I hope they concur with our work so we can get it to the governor soon," Campion said Friday. "This is an important bill for Vermonters, and I certainly hope his signs it."

He added: "The working group was established by executive order [of the governor] over the summer. Our bill puts the group in statute, so it will continue no matter who is in the governor's office."

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 on health or the environment.

Reporting requirements

The committee is required in its first report to the Legislature to recommend legislation to establish a centralized electronic chemical reporting system for businesses and for citizens to review the data.

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.

And the bill requires the group to recommend on amending the Toxic Use and Hazardous Waste Reduction Program, including which chemicals should be reported, reporting thresholds and the information to be submitted.

Groundwater testing

The legislation 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 for are arsenic, lead, uranium, gross alpha radiation; total coliform bacteria, nitrate, fluoride and manganese.

The Agency of Natural Resources could require additional testing, including by area of the state, and the agency will adopt rules on how to implement the testing requirements, including when to test and who is authorized to test.

Children's products

Among changes added in the House, Campion said, 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.

The commissioner also could restrict the sale of or require the labeling of a children's product containing a chemical of concern after consulting with the working group.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and Email: @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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