Montpelier, Vt. — The multinational corporation Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics agreed to dismiss the lawsuit against the State of Vermont challenging the perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (“PFOS”) groundwater standards. This new agreement between the State of Vermont and the potentially responsible company to uphold the state’s more stringent groundwater standards follows growing scientific evidence and escalating community concern regarding the toxicity of these chemicals even at very small concentrations.
In 2016, PFOA contamination was discovered in the groundwater and drinking water supply wells in the vicinity of the former Saint-Gobain manufacturing plant in North Bennington, Vermont, leading to the state of Vermont to designate a groundwater enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS, both toxic perfluorinated carbons known collectively under the umbrella acronym PFAS.
“The fact that the State of Vermont was sued because they were trying to protect their residents from getting sick from contaminated drinking water just shows how broken our chemical regulatory system is,” said Shaina Kasper, Vermont State Director with Toxics Action Center, a public health non-profit working with community groups facing PFAS drinking water contamination.“We need to close the loopholes in our chemical use regulations, including national enforceable drinking water standards that are science-based for infants, children, and vulnerable populations, and for combined total of all PFAS. And in the meantime, we need to support state-level change for more health protective drinking water standards, and to close the loopholes in state chemical use so that this type of contamination doesn’t happen in the first place.”
“We also need a national campaign to demand answers about PFOA replacement chemicals to ensure that history is not allowed to repeat itself,” added Joe Kiger from Keep Your Promises, Dupont a community group based in the Ohio River Valley fighting PFAS contamination and the subject of the documentary film The Devil We Know.
“Having Saint-Gobain dismiss this lawsuit in Vermont has huge ramifications for not just Vermont’s drinking water, but for community groups in New Hampshire, the rest of the United States, and the world,” said Andrea Amico, leader of the community group Testing for Pease. “We’ve been fighting here in New Hampshire for lower drinking water standards for the PFAS chemicals and the drop of this lawsuit marks a significant precedent for stronger PFAS regulations nationally.”
“The more we learn about these chemicals, the more we see health effects at lower and lower levels,” said Dr. Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute. “Recent studies suggest that PFOA in drinking water may affect children’s immune systems and mammary gland development at levels even below 20 ppt. What’s more, there are more than 3,000 PFAS chemicals on the global market, and most have never been tested for their impact on human health.”
“Ultimately, we need to move away from a chemical-by-chemical regulation and to a chemical class approach,” added Dr. Phil Brown from Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute which has been researching the social discovery of this contamination. “The narrow reach of this action also highlights the need for more comprehensive, precautionary chemical regulation capable of thoroughly evaluating classes of chemicals, and raises important questions about how classes of chemicals are delimited in environmental health science and regulation.”
In addition to filing the lawsuit against the state, Saint-Gobain also had a sheriff serve court summons to a number of Bennington residents who provided written comments on the new state drinking water health advisory level of 20 ppt which said “You are being sued. The plaintiff has started a lawsuit against you.” While Saint-Gobain argued that this summons was not in fact suing residents but just the state of Vermont, the theatrics of the lawsuit do not go overlooked by those opposed to the corporate bullying.
“The lawsuit centered on Saint-Gobain’s challenge of Vermont’s groundwater enforcement standard of 20 ppt for PFOA and PFOS, which the company alleged was ‘not supportable by science,’” said Lizzie Tisher, staff attorney at the Vermont Law School Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. “There is more than an adequate scientific basis supporting Vermont’s standard, and this lawsuit only delayed efforts to bring clean, safe drinking water to North Bennington. We hope this marks the beginning of Saint-Gobain working closely with concerned residents and the state to fully extend the municipal water line.”
“It’s encouraging to me, as someone who lives in a city impacted by this type of contamination, to know that there are state leaders in Vermont taking a strong stand to protect their people’s water supply.” said Mary Ann Babinski, City Councilor in Westfield, Massachusetts and a member of the community group Westfield Residents Advocating for Themselves (WRAFT). “It is my hope that other leaders will take notice and follow this example. Our government should respond quickly and be proactive about this serious situation, to make sure they protect the people they govern. It is their responsibility to uphold people’s rights to clean water, no ifs ands or buts about it.”
To learn more about the PFAS contamination crisis, and to see information from a national PFAS conference held June 14-15 in Boston, please visit PFASProject.com
To learn more about the impacts of PFAS on human health, see PFASHealth.info
To learn more about the community groups facing PFAS contamination in their communities, and to take action, see PFASProject.net