Scott signs medical monitoring bill into law

The former ChemFab plant in Bennington. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

After vetoing similar legislation twice before, Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday signed into law a medical monitoring bill that has for years garnered strong support from state lawmakers.

The law carves out a specific right for people who have been exposed to toxic chemicals to sue responsible companies for the cost of monitoring their health. 

According to the bill, S.113, medical monitoring is “a program of medical tests or procedures for the purpose of early detection of signs or symptoms of a latent disease resulting from exposure.”

Sens. Dick Sears and Brian Campion, both Bennington County Democrats, introduced the legislation following widespread contamination of PFAS, a chemical class associated with harmful health impacts, in Bennington. A now-closed factory in North Bennington had emitted the chemicals into the air, eventually contaminating around 8,000 residents’ drinking water.

Separately, many area residents will soon have access to medical monitoring due to a settlement from a class-action lawsuit that took six years and cost millions of dollars to pursue. But lawmakers, including Sears and Campion, have long argued that residents should not be subjected to such a laborious process in order to secure coverage for medical monitoring. 

“I’m very grateful that the governor has signed the bill,” Sears said. “No one should have to go through what our constituents have gone through in Bennington and North Bennington, through the six-year lawsuit that has just been settled.”

In a statement on Thursday, Scott said he appreciated the Legislature for “working towards a solution on this legislation,” highlighting Sears’ role, in particular.

“I know we’ve had differences on this issue in the past, but this result is a good example of how we can work to address each other’s concerns and get to ‘yes,’” Scott said in the statement. “That’s what good government is about.”

Sears said compromises on the bill haven’t diminished its impact. Lawmakers structured the bill to echo the class-action lawsuit settlement, he said. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Geoffrey Crawford’s decision established precedent and opened the door for medical monitoring remedies in the state. Along with an exemption for small businesses, Crawford’s decision might have made the bill more appealing to Scott, Sears said.

Jim Sullivan, a Bennington resident affected by the contamination who has long advocated for the bill, celebrated its passage on Thursday. 

“It has been a long process. But, you know, I think the experience that we all went through down here should make it evident why it’s important,” he said. 

In a joint statement, a number of environmental organizations also applauded the governor’s decision on Thursday. 

“Big corporations typically have large legal teams that can tie up lawsuits in court for many years, and make it incredibly difficult for victims of toxic contamination to be compensated for the costs they’ve had to bear,” Lauren Hierl, executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters, said in the statement.

Families and communities should “no longer bear the financial burden as victims of toxic pollution,” Jon Groveman, policy and water program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said in the statement. “Signing this bill is an important step towards holding polluters responsible.”

Bennington residents Marie-Pierre Huguet and her late husband, Sandy Sumner, who died last summer from a rare and aggressive form of cancer, were exposed to the contaminants and have had high levels of PFAS in their blood. Both have advocated for the bill. 

Earlier this week, a Rutland court officially approved the $34 million settlement that guarantees Bennington residents financial compensation and the right to medical monitoring, making the week both “wonderful and difficult,” Huguet said in an email.

The closure of both the legislative and judicial processes have been “harsh reminders of my personal loss and a proud celebration of Vermont and Vermonters,” she wrote. 

The new law, she said, “will help protect Vermonters from going through what Bennington County went through with the PFOA contamination. It will provide them with legal recourse when directly affected by the release of toxic contaminants into their environment.” 

“I am forever grateful to Senators Sears and Campion for sponsoring the bill and to Governor Scott for signing it,” she said.

The law is set to take effect on July 1.

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Scott signs medical monitoring bill into law

Christin Hakim

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