Protecting Vermonters from Harmful “Forever Chemicals”

PFAS, or poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, are toxic chemicals that have been widely used in industry and consumer products since the 1950s. Known as “forever chemicals” because of their long lifespan, PFAS have been shown to increase cancer risk, impair immune system functioning, and negatively impact fertility, hormone health, and early childhood growth and development.

PFAS 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.

“If you weigh the cost of protecting the public from these dangerous toxins versus the cost of doing nothing and allowing people to be harmed by the chemicals, the choice is clear. Vermonters deserve safe drinking water.”

—Paul Burns, VPIRG Executive Director

In 2017, testing found elevated levels of PFOA (a type of PFAS chemical) in hundred of wells in Bennington County, close to the former ChemFab plant, which manufactured Teflon coating for over 30 years and released PFOA into the air. Since then, elevated PFAS levels have been found in drinking water at a number of other locations around the state, including at sites in Grafton, Pownal, and Clarendon.

In response to this crisis, VPIRG and our allies successfully pushed the Legislature to pass Act 21 (S.49), which was signed into law by Governor Phil Scott in May 2019.

The law provides a framework to identify PFAS contamination and to create rules to determine allowable levels of PFAS in surface and drinking water. Under this law, water systems in the state have to perform sampling and report results to the ANR. Systems with water above the standard are required to post a “do not drink” notice to all users and treat the water so it is safe to consume.

As of January 2020, 7 public water systems in Vermont had tested above the interim state maximum contaminant level. In most areas, use of firefighting foam and manufacturing have been assumed to be the pollution sources. However, this recent data shows a strong correlation between contamination and ski towns, pointing to ski wax as a potential culprit of PFAS contamination in water.

It is clear that there is more work yet to be done when it comes to protecting Vermonters from harmful PFAS chemicals. We support a number of measures, including:

  • Banning PFAS from food packaging and firefighting foam. The Washington State Legislature passed both of these measures in 2018, and many manufacturers have successfully produced alternatives to PFAS in food packaging and firefighting foam
  • Banning residential carpets and rugs containing PFAS, mirroring the actions of industry giants like Lowe’s and Home Depot which have banned PFAS from their carpets and rugs
  • Addressing PFAS as a class—which includes up to 5,000 chemicals—under Act 188 by adding the authority to regulate classes of chemicals under the Act and adding PFAS to the Chemicals of High Concern to Children

To learn more about the state’s water quality monitoring program for PFAS, visit https://dec.vermont.gov/water/drinking-water/water-quality-monitoring/pfas.

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