Sense. Dick Sears and Brian Campion. File photos by Erin Mansfield and Glenn Russell/VTDigger

For the third time in four years, the Vermont Senate has backed a bill on medical surveillance for victims of toxic chemical exposure, but Gov. Phil Scott has not decided whether to do so. would support.

Section 113, which the Senate pre-approved on Wednesday afternoon, gives people who have been exposed to toxic chemicals the explicit right to sue the company responsible for the medical bills under certain conditions so they can be tested and treated for the disease.

Jason Maulucci, the governor’s press secretary, told VTDigger that the governor doesn’t believe the bill is necessary due to a recent settlement agreement that allocated $6 million toward medical expenses for exposure victims. at Bennington.

The proposal has been welcomed by environmentalists, local lawmakers and Bennington residents. But Scott raised concerns about the impact of such a law on the business community when he vetoed two similar bills in recent years.

“It appears the current bill has addressed some of his concerns,” Maulucci said in an email, “but there is still a long way to go before it gets to his desk, so it’s too early to say if he would be signed.”

Bennington residents were exposed to PFOA – part of the chemical group PFAS – when a now-closed Teflon factory emitted the chemicals through its smokestacks for years. Exposure to PFAS is known to cause thyroid and kidney cancer, raise cholesterol levels, and cause developmental problems for young children.

Senator Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Senator Brian Campion, D-Bennington, sponsored the bill. Sears introduced him and ran through his story in the Senate on Wednesday.

When the state established the severity of the contamination, the Natural Resources Agency hooked up affected residents to municipal water. Yet this left some issues unaddressed, such as medical oversight and declining property values. These were addressed in the settlement, announced last November.

“The settlement will not guarantee that medical surveillance will be available under state law for future exposed citizens, primarily because it was a settlement and not a case,” Sears said. .

Scott, Sears said, vetoed previous bills because of uncertainty in the insurance market and “because it would have established a standard of medical oversight different from any other standard used by the courts. Across the country”.

But in the settlement, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Geoffrey Crawford “asked whether Vermont law permits the use of medical surveillance, including whether a plaintiff must first suffer a injury or illness before seeking medical supervision as a remedy,” Sears said.

Crawford listed conditions that would qualify victims for medical follow-up, he said.

The conditions listed in the bill state that the person requesting medical monitoring must be exposed to a proven toxic substance at a rate significantly higher than that of the general population, and this must be the result of the wrongful conduct of the ‘business. An increased risk of developing serious illness must exist due to their exposure.

Crawford’s decision “noted that the choice between allowing and excluding medical surveillance recourse for potential future illnesses is a choice between competing values,” Sears said.

Jurisdictions that have ruled against the medical surveillance laws were primarily concerned with the economic consequences for the company, Sears said, summarizing Crawford’s decision.

Jurisdictions that have chosen to allow medical surveillance laws “appreciate the potential savings in lives that can be realized through the early detection and treatment of various illnesses,” he said.

Sears, who lives in the contaminated Bennington area – six times the size of Central Park, he said – reminded lawmakers of the severe impact for people exposed to PFOA.

“We were reminded by one of the Senate Judiciary witnesses that one of the recommendations from the Department of Health was that they hold their breath while showering to avoid any water consumption,” Sears said. “Think about that for a moment.”

Several groups voiced support for Senate approval after the vote.

“It is long overdue for Vermont to enact these policies, which have twice been passed by the House and Senate in similar form but have been vetoed by the Governor,” Jon said. Groveman, policy and water program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council. A declaration.

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, said in a statement to reporters that Vermonters “shouldn’t have to choose between spending exorbitant amounts to monitor their health or waiting for symptoms of an illness to appear. advanced”.

Other lawmakers spoke in favor of the Senate floor bill before proceeding to a vote, which was unanimous. Campion referenced North Bennington resident Sandy Sumner, who worked to raise awareness of the symptoms residents were experiencing from chimney emissions. Sumner had very high levels of PFAS in his blood, Campion said.

“We’ve spoken in the Senate for the past few years rather vaguely about the impacts that PFOA has had on the lives of members of our community,” Campion told lawmakers. “But we were all struck last summer when Sandy Sumner died aged 69.”

“I want to live as long as possible. I want the opportunity to live a natural life,” Sumner told VTDigger in 2019. “We feel like that freedom has kind of been taken away from us.

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