|© Safer States|
With no action yet from Congress, state legislatures continue to work to protect citizens.
The past couple years have seen unprecedented changes in the toxic chemicals landscape across the United States. In the past nine years, over 80 chemical safety laws have been passed with an overwhelming margin of bi-partisan support in statehouses across the country.
But this is not a time to rest on our laurels. Across the country, families still come into contact with unregulated toxic chemicals. Every day, we are exposed to hundreds of different chemicals in our home and at our work - chemicals like formaldehyde and chlorinated Tris which are known carcinogens, and bisphenol-a (BPA) which contributes to health problems with reproductive development.
None of these chemicals are effectively regulated by the federal government: it is a widely held myth that manufacturers even have to prove a chemical's safety before introducing it into products we buy. They don't have to, and they won't often even disclose which chemicals make up their products. Instead, they hide behind the claim that the information is proprietary.
The hope for federal regulation is still that - just a hope; the law overseeing toxic chemical regulation is over 30 years old, and its overhaul is being buffeted by strong opposition from the industry trade association which is backed by billions of dollars of influence. So while Congress tries to figure out how to change the rules on the federal level, it is up to the states to fill the gap in protection.
The Safer States coalition, made up of groups of environmental advocates, physicians, nurses, parents, and concerned citizens, stands in support of laws and policies which will lighten the toxic chemical burden that our families, loved ones and community carry.
The fact that we have been able to consistently pass important laws during troubling economic times is encouraging. While much of the chemical industry would have us believe that such laws are anti-business and anti-profit, many other organizations see the writing on the wall: The way that chemicals get into everyday household goods and then into our homes is unsafe and dangerous.
In addition to bi-partisan passage of many toxic chemicals laws, we see the support of many small businesses and manufacturing companies. David Levine, co-founder of the American Sustainable Business Council, which represents more than 100,000 businesses and 200,000 business leaders and entrepreneurs, says:
"Today's astute business leaders are concerned about the health and business impacts that could arise if the products they use or sell contain toxic chemicals.This year, at least 28 state legislatures will consider proposals to address continued concerns about toxic chemicals in consumer products. From bans on toxic flame retardants, BPA and formaldehyde to public right-to-know laws, state legislatures will be considering critical proposals to protect their citizens from toxic chemicals.
They recognize that safer chemicals protect human and environmental health and cut the costs of regulation, hazardous waste storage and disposal, worker protection, health care costs, and future liabilities.
Such steps make U.S. businesses more competitive in a global marketplace where protections from toxic chemicals are more stringent, opening up growing market opportunities.1"
In fact Vermont already passed a school "green" cleaning policy which will require manufacturers of cleaning products to only sell environmentally preferable products in schools.
Highlights of 2012 state legislation include:
- Identification and Disclosure of Chemicals Harmful to Children. At least 13 states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington will consider policies to identify and ultimately reduce exposures to chemicals of concern, including prioritizing chemicals for state action and requiring manufacturers of consumer products to disclose the chemicals in their products.
- BPA Phase Outs. At least 20 states will consider policy to restrict the use of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA in infant formula cans, other food packaging, children's products, and receipt paper. Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin are all states considering such legislation.
- Tris Flame Retardant Phase Outs. At least four state legislatures will introduce policies to phase out the use of the flame retardant chlorinated Tris in children's products. Chlorinated Tris is a flame retardant that was removed from children's pajamas in the 1970s because of concerns over adverse health effects, including cancer, but has reappeared in other children's products. Connecticut, Maryland, New York, and Washington are legislatures considering such a ban. In addition, Alaska, Michigan, New Jersey and New York legislatures will consider policies to reduce exposure to the flame retardant decaBDE.
- Green Cleaning in Schools. Earlier this month, Vermont passed policy requiring manufacturers to only sell environmentally preferable cleaning products to schools. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina are considering similar policy.
- Cadmium Bans in Children's Products. At least 5 states will be introducing or have introduced policies to ban the use of cadmium in children's products, including Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, New York, and Tennessee. Cadmium is linked to cancer and other health effects.
- Other policies. Oregon has introduced policy to require the state to reduce toxics through its procurement process. New York is considering policy to restrict formaldehyde in beauty products. Massachusetts and Georgia are also considering policy to improve the safety of cosmetics. Other states have introduced individual chemical restrictions, such as lindane in Michigan and perchloroethelyene in Vermont.
We have seen proof that state legislation creates a ripple which has effects that reach further than the state's borders. State legislation causes manufacturers to make nationwide changes, and sometimes it is the leader for federal regulatory changes. We look forward to another year of working to protect children and families from the debilitating effects of the toxic chemicals in our every day environment.
Press release: State Legislatures Tackle Toxic Chemicals To Protect Citizens (PDF)
About the author: Sarah Doll, mother of an adorable three year old, is the national director of SAFER states, a coalition of state-based organizations championing solutions to protect public health and communities from toxic chemicals.
1Toxic chemical reform is good for business Louisville Charter, April 15 2010.