Medical monitoring bill again clears Vermont Legislature, but this time Phil Scott intends to sign it

Medical monitoring bill again clears Vermont Legislature, but this time Phil Scott intends to sign it

Overgrown path near former ChemFab building
The former ChemFab building in North Bennington. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

A bill that supports those who have been exposed to toxic chemicals has, for the third time, cleared both the Vermont House and Senate. This time, however, Gov. Phil Scott is planning to sign it.

The bill, S.113, would give Vermonters who have been exposed to toxic chemicals an explicit right to sue chemical companies for medical monitoring expenses. Currently, those who have been exposed have to navigate complexities in the legal system — often an expensive and time-consuming process — to gain access to that coverage.

Medical monitoring allows people to be screened for diseases that may be related to their chemical exposure before they show symptoms.

Scott has vetoed two similar measures in the past, expressing concerns about potential impacts on the business community. But according to spokesperson Jason Maulucci, the governor does not intend to block the latest version.

“Barring any technical issues during our formal bill review process, the Governor intends to sign it into law,” Maulucci said in a written statement Friday.

He said the bill has “come a long way towards meeting the concerns the Governor expressed with previous iterations, and it provides a good example of when the legislature chooses to work to find consensus instead of conflict.”

The bill passed the House on Friday morning in what appeared to be a unanimous voice vote. A vote in the Senate earlier this session was also unanimous.

A number of Bennington residents who have been impacted by widespread PFAS contamination have long advocated for the bill’s passage.

Many of the residents’ drinking water wells were contaminated with PFOA, a chemical in the PFAS class that’s linked to a number of harmful health impacts, after a factory in North Bennington emitted the substance through its smokestacks while producing Teflon-coated fabrics.

Bennington residents will be able access medical monitoring starting this year, separately from the bill, due to a class action lawsuit that recently resulted in a $34 million settlement with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the company that purchased the North Bennington factory after it ceased operation .

The lawsuit took years and cost millions of dollars to pursue, demonstrating the complexities of a legal system that lacks a specific cause of action for medical monitoring.

“It took almost five years for the lawsuit to go forward on the Saint-Gobain case in Bennington,” said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who introduced S.113 with Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington. “We would hope that we could avoid that long period with this law, so that if another community were to suffer the same type of contamination, they would be able to get medical monitoring quicker.”

If the measure is signed into law, it would be the first of its kind in the country.

Environmental groups celebrated the House’s preliminary approval of the bill on Thursday. Jon Groveman, policy and water program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, called the bill “a crucial piece of legislation that will hold polluters accountable for the damage they have caused.”

“It’s time for us to make it easier for victims of toxic pollution to get the help they need, and S.113 is an important step in the right direction,” said Lauren Hierl, executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters.

Sandy Sumner, a Bennington resident who had high levels of PFOA in his blood due to the pollution from the nearby plant, advocated for the medical monitoring bill before he died last summer of a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Marie-Pierre Huguet reflects on the death by cancer of her husband Sandy Sumner at her apartment in Bennington on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. The couple lived next to a plant that emitted toxic PFOAs. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Sumner believed the chemical exposure caused his illness. Sumner’s wife, Marie-Pierre Huguet, recently spoke with VTDigger about her loss and the long-lasting impact of PFOA on her life.

On Friday, Huguet said she was “over the moon” upon hearing that the House passed the bill and that the governor planned to sign it.

“Every single Vermonter that has been involved in making this happen deserves the acknowledgement,” she said through tears. “The thought that no one will have to go through what we went through — it makes the pain worth it.”

In reference to Sumner’s contribution, she said she strongly believes “he’s one of the people that made the difference.”

About the governor’s plans to sign the bill, Huguet said she is “​​forever grateful that he ultimately put the health of his constituents first. He, too, is indeed a true Vermonter.”

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