MONTPELIER >> In a state where a potentially cancer-causing chemical has turned up in both private and public drinking water supplies, Vermont lawmakers have a message for the federal government: Step up regulation of these substances or let them do it.
The Vermont Senate was expected this week to approve a House-passed resolution, calling for the federal government to reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act or give states more authority to regulate these chemicals.
About 84,000 largely unregulated chemicals are in circulation, with more than 1,000 new ones being added each year, the resolution says. In the past 40 years, just 200 of those chemicals have been fully tested, it says.
Congress currently is working on resolving differences in proposed updates to the law but at least agrees states should be restricted in some way from entering the regulatory field.
The resolution comes since the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been found in more than 100 private wells in North Bennington and a public water supply in Pownal. The properties are near now closed factories that used the chemical.
The same chemical has been found in drinking water systems serving 7 million people in 27 states, according to the Washington-based Environmental Working Group that says it based its figures on federal government data.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency said in an emailed statement that it is evaluating Vermont's resolution. The agency noted that when the law was originally passed, "the statute did not provide adequate authority for the EPA to reevaluate these existing chemicals as new concerns arose or science was updated. The law also failed to grant the EPA effective tools to compel companies to generate and provide toxicity data."
Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, is to present the resolution to his Senate colleagues, possibly by Tuesday.
"It's heartbreaking," Campion told The Associated Press. "To have your friends and neighbors, who've been told their water is contaminated, the water they've been drinking. And the potential impact on housing prices, economic development."
Vermont has been checking other areas around where PFOA or related chemicals are believed to have been used. Last week, officials announced none had been found on or around the grounds of the state fire academy in Pittsford, where firefighting foam that believed to have contained PFOA or a similar substance had been used.
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy last week to complain that the agency was dragging its feet in cracking down on the chemical and had insufficient data on where it might still be found.
"It is reasonable to suspect that further contamination is lurking in other communities' water nationwide, but without complete and reliable information about the locations of all facilities that made, used or disposed of PFOA, state and local authorities do not know where they should conduct additional testing," Cook wrote.