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Our Heroes: Fathers, Grandfathers, Legislators

Posted by Safer States on Jul 7, 2011


 

When it comes to toxic chemical reform across the nation, many of the legislative heroes are dads, husbands and grandfathers who are not only working hard to protect the lives of the electorate, but more personally to remove toxic chemical threats from their own families.

 

When it comes to toxic chemical reform across the nation, many of the legislative heroes are dads, husbands and grandfathers who are not only working hard to protect the lives of the electorate, but more personally to remove toxic chemical threats from their own families.

Today, we are featuring three legislators, Senator Richard McCormack from Vermont, Representative Dick Roy from Connecticut, and Delegate James Hubbard from Maryland who are not only leaders in their field, but also family men – fathers and grandfathers. "We're the guys who are supposed to be protecting the family from the bad guys," Senator McCormack told us in a recent interview, a sentiment which nicely sums up the quiet, family force behind the work of these heroes.

We here at Safer States stand up and applaud these legislators for keeping us all safe.

Senator Richard McCormack (top) and his family (bottom): Son Aaron, granddaughter Emi, son Noah and granddaughter Zoe.

Senator Richard McCormack, Vermont

"I do think that there are times that my environmental politics derives in part from my sense of wanting to protect the people that I love."

Because of his hard work on the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, Senator Dick McCormack is a leader in the state of Vermont who helps to pass laws protecting Vermont's citizens. Senator McCormack has been in the Vermont legislature since 1988.

Vermont is a leader in toxics legislation, and their laws include a ban on bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles and sippy cups, a ban on toxic flame retardants, and several laws regulating the use of products containing mercury within the state.

Senator McCormack is particularly concerned about mercury exposure, and serves on the Advisory Committee on Mercury Pollution1. Describing why mercury is so harmful, Senator McCormack says, "One of the problems is that it bioaccumulates, and there's no such thing as a small dose because it keeps adding up. Several individually harmless exposures stay in the fatty tissue. Aside from the bioaccumulation; another problem is that mercury is ubiquitous." Mercury is harmful to the brain and nervous system of humans, and is particularly bad for developing fetuses2.

This year, Vermont addressed the issue of energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). The bulbs, which are lauded by environmental groups and municipalities for their energy efficiency and lower carbon footprint, contain a small amount of mercury.

While the mercury is not thought to harm users of the bulbs, the danger comes with disposal. If the bulb breaks, then consumers, or trash and recycling workers are exposed to the mercury. In May of this year, the Vermont legislature passed a bill3 requiring that manufacturers of CFLs create recycling programs to dispose of the bulbs. "We are not trying to beat these guys up, but responsibility needs to be placed where it belongs. However beneficial [CFLs are], if it's your product and your profit then it's your problem," says Senator McCormack.

Currently before the legislature is a comprehensive toxics bill4 similar to laws in Maine, California, Minnesota and Washington state that would establish a way for the state to identify the worst-of-the-worst chemicals, eliminate their use, and move toward safer alternatives. To date, Senator McCormack says, Vermont has been dealing with toxic chemicals individually. A comprehensive bill will make sure that the right toxics are getting the right attention, and being moved out of the lives of Vermont citizens.

Senator McCormack gives a lot of credit to our coalition member, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) for their work on the CFL bill, and helping to pass other environmental laws.

"Vermont is a small state with a citizen legislature. We are not in the position to do a lot of research as legislators. It's part time. Right now, I'm back to doing my job as a teacher. We look to VPIRG and others for guidance."

Representative Richard Roy

Representative Richard Roy, Connecticut

"I don't want anything happening to my granddaughters."

On June 9 of this year, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to ban the harmful chemical BPA from register receipts. This bill was passed largely due to the efforts of Representative Roy, who co-chairs the Energy & Environment Committee. The bill was passed in dramatic fashion on the last day of the legislative session with bi-partisan support, at 10:30 at night, and was later signed into law by Governor Malloy.

Representative Roy credits the hard work of the committee in passing the BPA bill. "The committee is made up of good people who care about the environment, who care about what happens to people, and what the chemical industry is doing to our environment."

BPA in register receipts is of particular concern to environmental advocates because it is in the form of a fine powder, which means it can easily rub off onto the skin and various surfaces, and 40% of receipts have been found to have BPA5. Hundreds of scientific studies have tied BPA to health concerns including reproductive issues, miscarriage, diabetes and obesity, cancer, behavioral impacts in young children, and brain development.

Connecticut had already passed a law banning BPA in infant formula containers, baby food cans or jars and reusable food and beverage containers, which will go into effect on October 1, 2011. Representative Roy thinks that the education process required to pass the original BPA ban helped to get the BPA-in-receipts bill passed. In a recent interview, he said, "With the original ban in place, I think that the members of the legislature were familiar with the term BPA and knew it was bad stuff. We didn't have to go through that education process."

Much of the opposition to the BPA-in-receipts bill had to do with budget questions, which were addressed partially by compromising and pushing out the effective date of the law until 2015. It is generally accepted that there will be a safer alternative by this date. Though, it should be noted that a couple of large retailers – Kroger and Ikea – have both declared intent to stop using receipts with BPA this year. Representative Roy says, "We had to convince people that it wasn't going to cost more money or break the budget. By pushing out the effective date, we took care of some of the budget problems that really would have caused problems for business. They should be thinking about what applications are going to come along that make this a safer issue."

Representative Roy's motivation for pushing state toxics reform comes from the desire to see a safer environment for the residents of Connecticut, and for parents and families:

"We just want a clean environment. We want people to be able to get up in the morning and breathe deeply and feel good about it. We want little boys to be able to get out in the yard and tumble on the grass without any concern. We want people to be able to buy products that are safe and don't pose a risk to their families."

Like Senator McCormack, Representative Roy also credits the state-level environmental groups for doing much of the heavy lifting regarding research into toxic effects. "The Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut has been a tremendous help. They have marshaled resources and brought forth much of the research that we were able to use. My hat goes off to them."

Delegate James Hubbard and his grandson Landon.

Delegate James Hubbard, Maryland

Photo of Delegate Hubbard holding his grandson Landon. Delegate Hubbard has a personal stake in making sure our future generations are not poisoned by products and toys containing BPA, Lead, and Cadmium.

As the President the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, and a strong leader in Maryland, Delegate James Hubbard is a leader who has helped to strengthen toxics laws around the country. "I felt it is incumbent on state legislators to protect our constituents if Congress isn't going to get off their asses and do it," Hubbard has said6.

Delegate Hubbard sees the role of state toxic chemical laws clearly: they not only protect their citizens from harmful chemicals, but they help to move forward federal legislation. Toxics laws move industry because they would prefer one, federal law to having to follow different chemical laws in different states. Also, "when you start working at the state level then Congress sees that the legislation is possible," says Delegate Hubbard.

"My experience has taught me that Congress doesn't necessarily move when it needs to. On the state level, what happens is that the states start moving forward with their own pieces of legislation. After a few states do that, the manufacturers end up going to Congress -- the industry goes ballistic. What we do in the different states tends to get industry to push Congress to move faster."

Delegate Hubbard and other legislators in Maryland have been working hard to ban BPA in the state in several applications. Last year, the legislature passed a ban on BPA in bottles and sippy cups. This year, Delegate Hubbard led the charge to successfully ban BPA from infant formula containers by 2014. "Don't ever anticipate that you're going to get 100% of what you want in a year," says Delegate Hubbard. "You have to get the tent up so that you can get your nose underneath it."

Delegate Hubbard is extremely proud that the new ban will contain a restriction on manufacturers applying for consideration for purchase by the Women Infant & Children (WIC) program if they produce any infant formula containers containing BPA. WIC is a supplemental nutrition program for women who are pregnant, infants, and young children who are low income. "The mothers in that program have no choice," says Delegate Hubbard. Many formula cans contain BPA-liners, and the BPA leaches into the formula (liquid more than powder), which exposes one of the most vulnerable populations to endocrine-disrupting BPA.

This year, Maryland also passed a law banning the extremely toxic metal cadmium from children's jewelry. Cadmium sometimes is found in the paint on inexpensive kid's jewelry, and if ingested it can interfere with reproductive development and issues with bones and kidneys. Delegate Hubbard says, "Maryland has been pretty progressive, and I've been fortunate to lead the charge."

The magic formula, in Delegate Hubbard's eyes, is when consumers are educated and that information backs up toxics legislation. "Consumer education is the biggest issue," he says. When consumers start making retail decisions based on their knowledge, then retailers move. "The more you educate the consumer," says Delegate Hubbard, "the more economic implication it has to the retailer, and the retailer is going to start pulling stuff without it being mandated."

Next month, we will be talking about the legislative victories that we have to celebrate this year. There has been great news coming from many states in the country.

Resources

1Vermont Advisory Committee on Mercury Pollution, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
2Mercury Fact Sheet, National Resources Defense Council.
3VT Implements Law Requiring CFL Makers to Create Recycling Programs, Environmental Protection, May 23 2011.
4Senate Bill 24, Vermont Legislative Bill Tracking System.
5Synthetic estrogen BPA coats cash register receipts, Environmental Working Group.
6Time to Ban BPA? Governing, March 2011.