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Vermont Lawmakers Make Third Pitch For Medical Monitoring Bill

Vermont State Senator Brian Campion speaks outside the former ChemFab plant in North Bennington
Vermont State Senator Brian Campion speaks outside the former ChemFab plant in North Bennington

Vermont state lawmakers are introducing for the third time a bill designed to require polluters to pay for medical monitoring expenses for residents affected by toxic contamination.

Outside the former ChemFab plant in North Bennington – a facility owned by Saint-Gobain that has been linked to local PFAS contamination – Vermont State Senator Brian Campion stood with colleagues to reintroduce legislation that would require polluters to pay for medical monitoring for those affected by the pollution.

“Through no fault of their own, Vermonters’ water, air, and land have been contaminated for years by these dangerous chemicals, which have caused people to become seriously ill and others to have high such levels of PFAS in their blood that they’re not at greater risk of disease,” said Campion.

Exposure to elevated levels of PFAS chemicals has been linked to several ill-health effects including forms of cancer.

The State of Vermont has taken several steps related to addressing PFAS contamination in Bennington and North Bennington over the last few years, including its agreement with Saint-Gobain to extend clean municipal water lines to homes with contaminated wells – a project still ongoing.

Despite other steps, the medical monitoring bill has been passed by the state legislature and vetoed twice by Republican Governor Phil Scott.

In vetoing S. 37 in June 2019, Scott cited the concerns of business owners and “unknown legal and financial risks, and increased liability” in his message to the legislature. The legislature did not attempt a veto override.

The re-introduction of the bill comes after federal judge Geoffrey Crawford in December 2019 ruled that Bennington residents could seek testing for health problems associated with PFAS exposure through the courts.

State Senator Dick Sears says the new version of the bill is written to address the governor’s concerns regarding small businesses and the agricultural sector.  

“We tried to explain this to the farmers, but the Farm Bureau came out against it. We tried to explain it to the small business groups, they came out against it… even though under Judge Crawford’s ruling, they would be responsible. Under this bill, we’re only going after the large companies which can pay the bill. And we’re hopeful that a third time is the charm,” said Sears.

North Bennington resident Jim Sullivan joined the lawmakers in support of the bill.

“It’s hard for me to imagine other people that find themselves in, tragically, in a situation similar to our own, having to pay for the cost of insuring that they can catch any of the medical conditions that arise from this toxic contamination out of their own pocket. It really makes no sense at all,” said Sullivan.

Representatives of the Vermont Natural Resources Council also appeared Friday to back the re-introduced medical monitoring bill.

Loreen Hackett, a resident-turned-activist from nearby Hoosick Falls, which has also experienced PFAS contamination in ground and water, said she wants to see a similar bill passed in New York.

“I work on a lot of bills, I go and push on a lot of bills, and there’s nothing yet in New York that even comes close to this. So, again, congratulations, your constituents should be really proud. And we’ll still be envious until we can do the same,” said Hackett.

Past legislation had been introduced in New York to direct the state Health Department to conduct medical monitoring for the residents of Hoosick Falls, Hoosick, and Petersburgh. Another bill would have established a fund to cover medical monitoring expenses for residents of those communities affected by PFOA. Lawsuits are continuing to seek damages and medical monitoring for affected residents.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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