Environmental Health Crossover Update & Call to Action

The VT Legislature is back from Town Meeting break and it’s crossover week, which means legislation needs to move this week if it’s to have a chance of being enacted this year. VPIRG director Paul Burns and Vermont Conservation Voters director Lauren Hierl came together to give an update on where several key pieces of environmental health legislation stand.

Since time is of the essence, we’re hoping that you can get involved in right away by calling your legislators in the State House or sending them a quick email.

There are three big bills that we want to highlight:

  1. S. 295, reducing the amount of toxic PFAS chemicals used in Vermont
  2. S. 227, banning unnecessary and throwaway plastic products in Vermont hotels
  3. S. 37, providing medical monitoring to victims of toxic chemical releases

PFAS – toxic “forever chemicals” linked to cancers and other problems with human health – have come under growing public scrutiny over the past few years as reports have revealed their presence in public and private water supplies across Vermont.  S. 295 would reduce the amount of these toxic PFAS chemicals that we’re bringing into the state in common products such as carpets and rugs, firefighting foam, and food packaging, where we know there is a big potential for exposure.  We want to turn off the tap of more PFAS chemicals coming into the state, and that’s why restricting the use of PFAS in these key products is an important step forward.

Another problem many people are familiar with is the challenge of single-use plastics. Of all the plastics ever made, more than half have been created in the last 15 years. There are more and more plastics being created each year, and about half of that is being used in single-use packaging that’s used once for a few minutes, and then stays around in the environment for 500 or 1,000 years. Last year the Vermont legislature took action on single-use plastics by passing legislation that bans carry-out bags, straws, stirrers, and expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam). That was a great first step, but there’s so much more to do.

That’s why we’re supporting a bill this year, S. 227, which will ban additional unnecessary and throwaway plastics like those tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles that you see in hotels. We believe it should be strengthened with a modernized Bottle Bill, postconsumer recycled content standard, and an overarching goal of reducing plastic waste. If we expand the Bottle Bill (which was originally passed in 1972 when we didn’t have things like single-use water containers or sports drinks and the like) that would bring in over 200 million more containers into the system to be recycled properly. We think it should also have a recycled content standard so that beverage manufacturers have to keep increasing the amount of recycled content in those materials. Lastly, there should be a big goal requiring the state to reduce its overall packaging waste by 75% over the next 10 years. Those are all things that we think should be in S. 227, which also needs to move out of the State Senate this week.

Lastly, Medical Monitoring – S. 37 – means that if a Vermonter is impacted by toxic contamination from a spill or chemical release and has to get medical screenings or tests, the toxic polluter should be the one to pay – not the victim. While S.37 was passed last year,  intense lobbying from corporate lobbying resulted in Governor Scott vetoing that bill. We now have the opportunity to override that veto in the legislature, which will require a two-thirds vote. Your voice to help call on your senators and representatives to help victims of toxic pollution in Vermont would be a huge help to get this priority legislation over the finish line.

These are three priorities that we have the chance to move this week, and we need your help to make it happen. You can call into the State House at 802-828-2228 to leave a message for your legislators, or send them an email by looking them up on the legislative website, here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/people/all/2020