30 States Consider Bills to Protect People from Toxics
In response to growing public concern over dangerous chemicals in common household products and continued Congressional inaction, on Wednesday, January 19th legislators and advocates in 30 states across the country announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at protecting children and families from harmful toxic chemicals. Despite well-funded opposition from the chemical industry, 18 state legislatures have already passed 71 chemical safety laws in the last eight years by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin – with more to come in 2011.
“Time and time again, the states have shown they are the laboratories for democracy and led the way to reforms that were then acted on by Congress,” said NYPIRG Legislative Counsel Russ Haven. “When it comes to adopting a preventative approach to toxic chemical use in products, the state legislatures are clearly standing up to the chemical industry and showing Congress the path to protecting public health.”
“You cannot walk into a store and tell which products contain toxics and which are safer, much less be confident that the product you buy is free from harmful chemicals. This is unacceptable,” said Bobbi Chase Wilding, Organizing Director for Clean New York. “While Congress has failed to protect us, I am grateful that New York has stepped forward to lead the way. No one should worry that their health is being compromised by toxic chemicals lurking in innocuous household products like their pillows, jewelry, beverage containers or televisions.
Bills to be considered in the 30 states include bans on Bisphenol A (“BPA”) and toxic flame retardants in consumer products, requirements that children’s product makers use only the safest chemicals, and resolutions urging Congress to overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – the federal law that allows dangerous and untested chemicals to be used in everyday products and materials.
New York is among the leading states working to protect health by limiting the use of toxics in products. Last session, the State enacted restrictions on BPA. Suffolk County led the nation on this issue, having enacted the first U.S. BPA restriction. New York has laws that restrict products with mercury, lead, and toxic flame retardants. The State Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee took up the matter of restricting cadmium in novelty products in its first meeting of 2011.
“There is a national movement underway that is trying to protect children from the hazards of priority chemicals such as lead, cadmium and mercury in children’s products. These chemicals are bio-accumulative and will damage our children’s health for many years after they come into contact with them. Many states have already taken the necessary and prudent action to protect children and others are moving to join them. My bill S. 1526 would require manufacturers to disclose and discontinue products that contain priority chemicals and find safer alternatives. If a safer alternative exists the manufacturer will be banned from making the harmful product and selling it on the market,” said Senator Bill Perkins (D-Harlem). “New York must take a stand in protecting our future.”
“Children breathe more air, eat more food and drink more water per pound of body weight than adults, and thus are exposed to relatively greater quantities of environmental pollutants. They are also more vulnerable to the health impacts of chemical and toxic substances because their respiratory and immune systems are in developing stages—a precautionary approach of prudent avoidance should be taken to protect children,” said Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst). “As action stalls at the federal level, New York can take action now, including passing restrictions on cadmium, which has already advanced through the Environmental Conservation Committee I chair, and passing a broader framework to address the numerous toxic chemicals that are sadly all too common.”
Health advocates cite the increasing rates of chronic diseases linked to toxic chemical exposure like cancer, asthma, and infertility, as reasons why action is needed to get harmful chemicals off the market.
"Many believe that we have a nursing shortage; truth is, we have too many patients. These patients are in the health care system, consuming health care dollars, as a direct result of the toxic chemicals that are allowed in the consumer products they are exposed to every day. These chemicals are known to cause cancer, affect neurological development and interrupt normal endocrine functions of young boys and girls,” said Thomas Lowe, Director of Health and Safety for the New York State Nurses Association. “Unless the Toxic Substances Control Act is drastically reformed, our health care system will continue to be overwhelmed with illness and disease, which otherwise could be prevented."
Heeding the aggressive opposition of chemical industry lobbyists rather than the support of the American electorate, Congress has failed to pass introduced TSCA reform legislation three times in the last six years.
“The American public is demanding new chemical safety laws, and state elected officials – both Republics and Democrats – are responding,” said Andy Igrejas, Campaign Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. “At some point Congress will wake up and realize it is better for the economy and public safety to make these changes at the federal level, as well.”
In 2011, legislatures in 30 states and the District of Columbia will consider initiatives to limit the use of toxic chemicals in everyday products, including:
- Nine states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, will be introducing or have introduced policies to change the way we regulate chemicals at the state level.
- Seventeen states will be introducing or have introduced policies to restrict the use of BPA in infant formula cans, receipt paper, baby bottles and/or sippy cups including: Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and the District of Columbia.
- Eleven states will be advancing resolutions calling on the 112th U.S. Congress to bring our federal chemicals policy into the 21st century: Alaska, California, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.
- Eight states will be introducing or have introduced policies to ban the use of cadmium in children’s products, including: Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York.
- Four states will be introducing or have introduced policies to reduce exposure to deca BDE, including: Alaska, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and the District of Columbia.
- Chemical safety legislation is also planned for South Dakota.
Recently, organizations within the JustGreen Partnership, in collaboration with two national health-based coalitions, SAFER States and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, released a report called Healthy States: Protecting Families from Toxic Chemicals While Congress Lags Behind. This first-ever analysis of votes on state laws aimed at protecting the public from toxic chemicals found that, of more than 9,000 votes cast by state legislators, 73% of Republicans and 99% of Democrats favored stronger protection of children’s health and the environment from dangerous chemicals, with equal support from governors of each party. The report found that the pace of state policymaking on chemicals has more than tripled in eight years.