News Feature | February 10, 2017

Vermont Lawmakers Debate PFOA Liability

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

vermont reg new

Vermont lawmakers are debating who should pick up the cost of ensuring clean drinking water after a contamination event.

The question is this, according to WCAX: “Should companies that contaminated [private water wells with] the chemical PFOA pay the costs of extending public water to impacted homes?”

The Vermont Senate is considering legislation that would affect companies including Saint-Gobain, a manufacturer, according to the report. “More than 100 private wells [near a former Saint-Gobain plant] have tested positive for PFOA, a chemical linked to cancer. While the company has provided bottled water and filters, some lawmakers are pressing for it to pay for a $30 million public water line extension. Industry groups say the current bill is premature and goes too far,” the report said.

The legislation would “make any party releasing PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) into the atmosphere liable for costs of extending municipal water service to contaminated properties to provide safe drinking water,” the Bennington Banner reported.

The bill would hit companies responsible for PFOA contamination with “strict liability” for municipal water-line extensions, VT Digger reported.

“Strict liability is a legal concept meaning a party committing certain behaviors is held liable for harms that result, regardless of whether the party acted intentionally or negligently,” the report said.

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, explained why the bill is structured the way it is.

“Strict liability is not just about cleaning up, or providing safe drinking water once contamination occurs, but (it’s also about) trying to prevent contamination from occurring,” he said, per VT Digger.

A Vermont Senate committee held a hearing on the contamination issue last month in Bennington, where residents were seriously affected by the contamination, the Bennington Banner reported.

The issue of remedying the PFOA contamination in Vermont has been vigorously debated in recent months.

“State officials have pushed for Saint-Gobain to cover the cost of extending water mains to residents with contaminated wells — a cost that would likely exceed $25 million. Saint-Gobain on Dec. 22 sent a letter to incoming Gov. Phil Scott indicating that carbon filtration systems installed on affected residents’ water supplies is an adequate solution instead,” VT Digger reported.

For more on PFOA visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Fall Foliage," Kimberly Vardeman © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/