Toxic Chemical Reform
The discovery of toxic PFAS-contaminated drinking water in Bennington County in 2016 highlighted systemic problems. This class of chemicals, PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl 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, 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.
In 2018, several working group recommendations were passed by the Legislature but were vetoed by Governor Phil Scott. These provisions included steps to improve the process for identifying chemicals of high concern to children’s health, and to consider restricting the use of the most harmful chemicals in our children’s products. Further, a bill passed the Legislature that would have shifted the burden of paying for the harms caused by toxic contamination onto the corporation that used and profited off the chemicals, rather than the costs being borne by Vermonters who were harmed. We urge the Legislature to again pass these policies in 2019, as well as to pursue other policies to 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.
2019 Legislative Priorities
- Pass legislation to update the Toxic-Free Families Act (Act 188) to collect more consumer-friendly information on toxic chemicals being used in children’s products, and to improve the process for listing and phasing out the use of chemicals of high concern to children.
- Strengthen legal remedies to help Vermonters who have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, and hold polluters responsible for the harm caused by their use of toxic chemicals.
- Require lead testing and remediation of drinking water in all schools and child care facilities to ensure no Vermont children are drinking lead-contaminated water at school.
- Restrict the use of toxic PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam.