by Marguerite Adelman, Vermont Military Poisons Coalition
In 1935, Dupont came out with the saying “Better things for better living … through chemistry.” The slogan had little to do with chemistry and more to do with promoting big business as a force for moral good and continual progress. Over the past 80 years, big businesses like Dupont, 3M, and others — as well as the military and its industrial complex — have proved that they are far from a force for moral good and progress in our world. Take the case of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as forever chemicals. PFAS are highly toxic and found to have adverse health impacts, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer. These chemicals can easily migrate into the air, dust, food, soil and water. And they bio-accumulate in living creatures.
PFAS are everywhere now. Ironically, the dangers of PFAS have been known since the 1950s and have been covered up through a number of clever and amoral marketing strategies. Sadly, PFAS are now found in breast milk.
While I am pleased that Vermont has passed one of the most restrictive pieces of PFAS legislation in the country, we would be ignorant to believe that this one piece of legislation has stopped the problem. S.20 is only a first step. What still needs to be done? Quite a lot.
The military, airports, and chemical companies need to use fluorine-free foams now. We can’t wait any longer as these chemicals affect us and our environmental in catastrophic ways. Our legislative leaders declined to require VTANG (Vermont Air National Guard) to use safer and effective alternatives already in use in other nations and by other militaries. Vermont legislators cited federal pre-emption as the basis. Ironically, we can oppose federal law on the illegality of marijuana, but not on something like PFAS. I guess both marijuana and PFAS make lots of money for someone.
Vermont needs to hold the military, chemical companies, and other businesses accountable for PFAS clean-up across the state. The airport and VTANG have PFAS contamination at 72,000 (parts per trillion). Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for cleanup, alternative water supplies, remediation, and filtration.
Vermont needs to mandate regular testing of fish, wildlife, rivers, streams, and people for PFAS contamination. Vermont tests for other chemicals like mercury, but not for PFAS. We pride ourselves on being a green state where people can come to fish and recreate. Let’s make sure we are not poisoning folks with PFAS in the fish and wildlife they consume and the lakes and rivers they swim in.
Vermont needs to ban the entire class of man-made PFAS chemicals, not just the five specific PFAS chemicals regulated in Vermont at a total of 20 parts per trillion (ppt). Companies just substitute one banned PFAS chemical for one that isn’t regulated. And new, unregulated products with PFAS go on the market all the time in everything from cosmetics to sunscreen. With over 7,000 of these man-made chemicals, it’s really easy to confuse the public in marketing campaigns.
Vermont needs to impose a moratorium on the use of bio-solids on agricultural lands and update the sludge rule to require testing for PFAS until the use can be shown to be safe.
So much more needs to be done at the state and federal levels. PFAS do not respect state boundaries. It might shock many to learn that the decommissioned Plattsburgh Air Force Base (PAFB closed in 1995) has PFAS contamination at over 1 million ppt. The PFAS contamination from the PAFB flows into Lake Champlain from Au Sable and Salmon Rivers. The PFAS contamination from VTANG flows into Lake Champlain from the Winooski River. PFAS crosses state and country boundaries via water and air. We are interconnected and all PFAS affects each of us no matter where we live.
Vermont can and must do more. Vermont legislators should adopt the precautionary principle in passing environmental regulations and should serve as the guardians for future generations of Vermonters. Vermont citizens should educate themselves and stop supporting those companies and businesses that are selling them environmental toxins. This is not better living through chemistry; this is a public health crisis through environmental poisoning. And we cannot trust most big businesses or the military to protect us and the environment when making money and waging war and destruction are the ultimate motives.