Senate passes bill requiring testing and treatment for PFAS contaminants

By Elizabeth Gribkoff Mar 13 2019 

he Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would set drinking water standards for five PFAS contaminants and require testing of public water supplies by the end of this year.

The legislation, S.49, would require managers of public water supplies to test to ensure levels of five PFAS contaminants — PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFNA — are below a combined 20 parts per trillion, which is the state’s health advisory.

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If elevated levels are found, drinking supply managers would have to treat water to lower levels and provide residents with clean drinking water until the public supply is safe.

The bill would also require the Secretary of Natural Resources to file a rule next August to set drinking water standards for the thousands of chemicals in the PFAS family as a class — something requested by environmental advocates earlier this year.

The ANR Secretary would also be required to publish a plan next January for setting surface water standards for PFAS compounds.

Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, lead sponsor of the bill, said during the second reading of the bill Tuesday that it builds on what Vermont learned from the [Bennington PFOA contamination] public health crisis.

In 2016, the state discovered that perfluorooctanoic acid from a ChemFab manufacturing plant had contaminated drinking water for hundreds of residents in Bennington.

PFAS do not break down in the environment and are used in a wide array of manufactured products, from rain jackets to cookware to firefighting foam. Scientists now know that exposure to certain PFAS chemicals can lead to cancer, hormone disruption, immune system damages, developmental problems in children and low birth weight.

The state has been working since then to address the Bennington area contamination — including reaching a settlement with the plant’s current owner Saint Gobain requiring them to pay to provide clean water for residents.

While PFOA and PFOS — two of the most toxic PFAS compounds — have been phased out by industry, they do not easily break down, so chemicals used years ago persist in the environment.

“The sad truth is that everyone in this room has some level of PFOA in their bodies, most likely in their blood,” Bray told fellow senators. “It has a half life of several years, meaning, assuming no additional exposure…you may have some for the rest of your life.”

Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, asked Bray during the second reading what the cost would be for municipalities to monitor and treat for PFAS.

“I’m just wondering—are we talking about $2,000, $200,000 or $2 million?” she asked.

Bray said remediation costs vary greatly. He noted that the state has a low-interest clean water drinking water revolving fund and that, in some cases, can take action against polluters to make them pay.

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