Read the full article by Marcie Gallagher (Bennington Banner)

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began wreaking havoc back in March, our state leaders have been tasked with protecting the health and well-being of Vermonters under incredibly challenging circumstances. In many ways Vermont is faring better than most states, but there is still important work to be done.

One priority that must not be forgotten is the need to protect against health threats not directly related to COVID. This is particularly true for toxic threats that may worsen the effects of the disease, such as PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a.k.a. forever chemicals).

Just last month, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a statement on the intersection between PFAS exposure and COVID-19, which cites studies showing a correlation between exposure to PFAS and a suppression of the immune system’s ability to make antibodies — a critical component for fighting COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

As Dr. Linda S. Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Toxicology Program (NTP), said, ‘PFAS can weaken our immune system, making us more vulnerable to infectious diseases like COVID-19.’

When the Legislature reconvenes on Aug. 25, legislators will have a chance to give final passage to legislation (S.295) that would better protect Vermont families from PFAS chemicals found in some commonly used products like food packaging and residential carpets.

PFAS pollution has been at the forefront of anti-toxics advocacy in Vermont since the 2016 discovery of high levels of PFOA, a type of PFAS chemical, in private drinking wells in Bennington County. Bennington residents who were exposed to high levels of PFOA through their drinking water were rightly concerned because PFAS has been linked to cancer, thyroid, liver and kidney disease, as well as harm to the immune system.

Since 2016, the Legislature has taken some significant steps to address PFAS contamination, most notably the creation of a drinking water standard for five of the most ubiquitous PFAS chemicals. Looking for PFAS in drinking water is important work, but it’s a “downstream” solution that happens only after exposure or contamination has already occurred.

In contrast, S.295, which is now in the House Human Services Committee after passing the Senate unanimously, is an ‘upstream’ solution that prevents exposure in the first place. It will ban PFAS from commonly used products sold in Vermont like food packaging, rugs and carpets, and firefighting foam that include PFAS. It will also add PFAS to Vermont’s list of Chemicals of High Concern to Children…”