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Shumlin, Who Vetoed Water Testing Requirement, Slams Lax Federal Regulations

The first bill Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed, in 2011, would have required testing on all private wells and created a central database of water contamination in Vermont.
The first bill Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed, in 2011, would have required testing on all private wells and created a central database of water contamination in Vermont.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday that he cannot reassure Vermonters on public or private water supplies that their water is safe to drink.

Asked on Vermont Edition if he could “reassure Vermonters that our water is safe for us to drink,” Shumlin said he could not.

“Well, you know, I can’t say in a blanket way as I’m sure Vermonters would like me to be able to say ‘Hey, we’re all fine,’ because obviously it was a huge surprise to us that we had this problem in North Bennington. Now we have a less severe problem, but as you know we’ve come up with positive tests in Pownal. So, you know, we’ve  got reasons to be concerned.”

Shumlin said part of the problem in Pownal and North Bennington is that the contaminant, PFOA, was not recognized as a harmful chemical when it was being used by a chemical plant in North Bennington which closed in 2002.

“I don’t think there’s a huge PFOA problem in Vermont,” Shumlin said. “We’re going to find some pockets of it. We’ll go find them, but I don’t think that this is a crisis for the state.”

But the governor also said he can’t reassure Vermonters that their water is clear of other potentially harmful chemicals.

“Well, that I cannot tell you, and nor can anyone, because you know we didn’t know PFOA was a problem just a few years ago,” Shumlin said. He blamed federal regulators for being too lax about potential toxins. “And that’s the scary part about not having a federal government that’s doing what it should to test the stuff before it goes on the market.”

But, because of Shumlin’s first-ever veto as governor, the state doesn’t even require testing for known contaminants in private drinking wells.

The bill, passed by both the Senate and the House in 2011, would “require a private well used or intended for use as a potable water supply to be tested for drinking water contaminants when the well is initially drilled and as a condition of a contract for sale.”

It also would have directed “the agency of natural resources to develop a well testing kit that would be available to the public.”

The language of the legislation noted that Vermont “lacks a comprehensive database or map identifying where groundwater contamination is prevalent in the state.”

The legislation would not have required testing for PFOA, but explicitly required tests for “at a minimum: arsenic; lead; uranium; gross alpha radiation; total coliform bacteria, total nitrate and nitrite, fluoride, manganese, and any other parameters required by the agency by rule.”

At the time, according to VTDigger​, Shumlin said he vetoed the bill because it would put an unreasonable burden on property owners.

“I don’t believe the government should mandate the testing of every single new well, with the cost and burden on individual private property owners,” he said in a statement at the time.

No similar legislation has passed since, according to the Agency of Natural Resources which would have been tasked with implementing the vetoed bill.

As a result, there remains no requirement that private drinking water supplies in the state of Vermont be tested for any contaminants at any point in their existence.

Public water supplies, as Seven Days reported on March 16, are tested annually for a variety of contaminants.

Update 6:16 p.m. Secretary of Natural Resources Deb Markowitz said Thursday that a law passed in 2012 requires licensed well-drilling contractors to provide customers with informational materials about well testing, but does not make the testing mandatory.

Copyright 2016 Vermont Public Radio

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.

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