Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a new hazardous chemical bill Wednesday that gives the state more power to go after companies that pollute the environment.
Shumlin signed the bill just a few miles up the road from the former Chemfab plant, which state officials say is the likely source of water contamination in the area.
The state tested 432 private drinking wells in North Bennington and Bennington and 227 have PFOA above the state advisory level of 20 parts per trillion.
The new law gives the state more options when facing future environmental contamination.
"Obviously we can't put the genie back in the bottle," Shumlin said. "But what we can do is ensure that our reaction and our actions are swift, consistent, thoughtful and effective. This bill is yet another step in that process."
The law allows the Agency of Natural Resources to ask companies about specific chemicals being used at Vermont facilities before a lawsuit is filed against the company.
Shumlin said that while it was up to the federal government to regulate chemicals, the state should make sure that untested and unregulated chemicals are safe if they are going to be used in Vermont.
“The discovery of elevated levels of PFOA in Bennington and North Bennington is an unfortunate wake-up call exposing vulnerabilities in the decades-old federal system of regulating chemicals of concern," Shumlin said. "The federal government needs to act, but Vermont won't wait for it to do so. This new law will make it easier for the state to classify and identify toxic chemical use and to give the state more power to hold polluters responsible."
The legislation also sets up a working group that will examine the chemicals that are being used in the state and determine if any are potentially dangerous to the environment or to public health.
The group will report to the Legislature by the end of this year on how to reduce exposure to the toxic chemicals.