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Senate bill would hold corporate polluters accountable for health and environment damage

Senate bill would hold corporate polluters accountable for health and environment damage

Vermont Business Magazine On Wednesday, A bill was approved by the Vermont Senate (initial approval).S.113) that will help Vermonters harmed by toxic contamination. The bill removes an unfair legal obstacle that prevents them from holding corporate polluters liable for the harm they have caused. The bill also gives the State of Vermont the authority to sue manufacturers of hazardous chemicals that cause damage to Vermont’s natural resources and public facilities.

Jon Groveman, Policy and Water Program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Councilsaid that S.113 contains important policies which will allow Vermonters hold polluters responsible for the damage done by the release toxic chemicals into their communities. These policies, which passed twice in the House and Senate with a similar form, were vetoed but it is now that Vermont needs to adopt them.

Senator Dick Sears (Bennington County), added, “I am pleased that once more the Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill that will assist innocent victims of toxic polluting and will hold dangerous chemical manufacturers responsible for the harm they do.” The bill was redrafted to address concerns expressed by the Governor in his veto of a similar measure last biennium. I hope that the Governor will support this bill and do the right thing for Vermonters.

In 2016, Vermont discovered that hundreds upon hundreds of drinking water sources in the Bennington region were contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluorinatedalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals can persist in the environment for many years and are associated with a variety of health problems, including testicular and kidney cancers.

Senator Brian Campion noted, “Here in Bennington County we have lived with the devastating effects of toxic contamination.” We have seen firsthand the devastating effects of toxic contamination on Vermonters’ health and property. It puts our bodies at risk for long-term illnesses and then makes us pay the price.

The legislature has worked diligently to reduce Vermonters’ exposures to toxic chemicals like PFAS. The Legislature passed a bill last year to limit toxic PFAS chemicals in a variety of products. The state must also help those who have been exposed.

S.113 recognizes Vermonters who were harmed due to the release of toxic chemical substances should not have to pay to get medical care. The bill imposes responsibility on those who caused toxic exposure, and not on innocent victims.

S.113 would also allow for the State’s right to sue chemical producers who have caused damage to our natural resources. This provision will allow for the State to seek damages from chemical manufacturers in order to clean up chemicals such as PFAS from our water supply systems, wastewater treatment plants, lakes, ponds and streams.

Our legal system is biased heavily in favor corporate polluters. S.113 is a small but important step to correct this imbalance, said Lauren Hierl, executive director at Vermont Conservation Voters. Medical monitoring allows people to detect and treat chemical exposures as soon as possible and can give them the best chance for recovery.

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This issue has been discussed for many years. Two bills passed the Legislature, but both were blocked by Governor Scott. As lawmakers sought to address concerns raised by Governor Scott and corporations that opposed the bill, the legislation evolved.

In December 2020 Judge Crawford, Chief Judge for the Federal District Court of Vermont, issued a preliminary decision in the case concerning the release in Bennington of PFAS chemicals. Although the case did not create a precedent in legal monitoring of medical patients, it did set the stage for S.113.

Judge Crawford’s preliminary ruling gives Vermonters a fair test to access medical monitoring. It also addresses Governor’s concerns and provides victims of toxic pollutants with the right to seek monitoring. We look forward to working with Vermont House to bring this bill forward to benefit Vermonters.

MONTPELIER VT Office of Pro Tempore Senate President

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