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2011 State Victories for Environmental Health

Posted by SAFER States on Aug 4, 2011

So far in 2011, nine new toxic chemical policies have been passed in seven states, adding to a total of over 80 chemical safety laws passed in the last nine years by an overwhelming margin with broad bipartisan support

As legislative sessions around the country wrap up it's a good time to take stock of the landscape. Even in the wake of federal struggles, economic concerns and industry backed opposition, states continue to take on and pass toxic laws and policies.

So far in 2011, nine new toxic chemical policies have been passed in seven states, adding to a total of over 80 chemical safety laws passed in the last nine years by an overwhelming margin with broad bipartisan support (see the Healthy States report for more details on bipartisan support for toxics reform). In 2011, 99% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans supported these policies. In addition to bills passed, protections also increased through administrative action and rule implementation. In total, 10 states in 2011 have made changes in favor of a healthier, less toxic environment for families and future generations.

Some firsts:

  • Connecticut became the first state in the nation to ban bisphenol-A (BPA) from thermal receipt paper.
  • Washington became the first state to require manufacturers of children's products to report what toxic chemicals are present in their products.
  • New York was the first state in the nation to ban products for children containing the toxic tris flame retardant linked to cancer.

On the federal landscape this year, Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S.847), which would overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—the outdated law that oversees toxic chemical use in the United States. Environmental advocates and sympathetic legislators have been working hard to pass legislation making TSCA current. TSCA was originally enacted during the Ford administration and has never been updated. The Safe Chemicals Act would reform TSCA, which has proven ineffective in identifying and reducing the use of toxic chemicals. The proposed bill was introduced into the U.S. Senate in April, and has to date not made any progress.

Meanwhile, states are shouldering the load and protecting their residents from toxic chemicals to the best of their ability. In addition to the "firsts" listed above, in 2011:

  • California and Illinois passed resolutions urging Congress to update TSCA.
  • Delaware, Maryland and Maine passed laws against BPA. Additionally, the Massachusetts Public Health Council approved a ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups through an administrative action.
  • Massachusetts declared formaldehyde and hexavalent chromium to be high risk chemicals.
  • Maryland banned cadmium in jewelry for children.
  • Minnesota published a list of nine Priority Chemicals of High Concern that are found in the body, setting the stage for the phase-out of these chemicals.

State laws continue to pass, despite industry opposition

Nearly every time a proposed toxic chemical law is being discussed in statehouses across the country, representatives from some of the nation's largest industries show up to fight. State advocates report seeing representatives from the Toy Industry Association, the American Chemistry Council, the Grocery Manufacturers' Association and other similar organizations at their hearings. These organizations put their bottom line above public health and attempt to use economic scare tactics, distort legislation and marginalize overwhelming scientific evidence against toxic chemicals to convince legislators to vote ¬¬against protective laws.

It's hard to know exactly how much money industry is spending to fight these laws, but reports show that they are willing to spend big bucks to protect their interests – Environment & Energy Daily reports that players in the chemical industry spent $4 million in lobbying money—just in the first quarter of 2011 and just on federal laws.

In February, we talked in detail about the specific tactics industry employs against state legislation.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle time and time again stepped up to pass laws despite industry efforts.

This year, industry tactics played out in Maine in dramatic fashion. While Maine passed a "Kids Safe Products Act" in 2008, Governor Paul LePage, a newly-elected, Tea Party-backed Republican, set about to repeal the law and question whether BPA needed to be banned. It was uncovered that out-of-state lobbyists and large trade groups had the ear of the Governor and were advising him to repeal the law. A four-month back-and-forth about banning BPA ended when the Maine House voted by a 145-3 margin to phase out BPA, overriding Governor LePage's veto.

"The legislative victories in 2011 have shown that, at the end of the day, most legislators prioritize the health of their constituents over industry interests. Until the federal government steps in and passes and enforces strong toxic chemical legislation, the states are going to continue to fight for the health and welfare of their residents. We have a lot of work yet to do, but the 80 laws passed in the past 9 years are a very encouraging start."

- Sarah Doll, National Director for Safer States

Connecticut leading the charge against BPA in receipts

On June 9 of this year, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to pass a law against BPA in thermal-receipt paper. Concerns about a fine powder of BPA layering about 40% of receipts became of concern to environmental health advocates recently. BPA is tied to health concerns including reproductive issues, miscarriage, diabetes and obesity, cancer, behavioral impacts in young children, and brain development. When BPA is on a receipt, it can easily rub off onto the skin and various surfaces. This poses a health concern, not only to customers, but to workers who have to handle receipts for up to eight hours a day.

The Connecticut legislature passed the BPA-in-receipts ban unanimously in the Senate, and by a large majority (112-33) in the House, showing once again that toxic chemical laws cross party lines.

"Connecticut is yet again providing first-in-the-nation policy advances that will better protect the health of families and workers from exposure to BPA found in most receipts ... We hope that this new BPA law helps propel efforts to move forward with the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 which will update our federal chemical policies as well."

- Dr. Mark Mitchell, MD, MPH, and President of Mitchell Environmental Health Associates (via Connecticut Nurses Foundation)

Last month, we highlighted the efforts of Representative Richard Roy whose work was crucial in passing this ban, which will go into effect in 2015.

Washington State pressuring manufacturers to disclose toxic chemicals

Under a new rule issued by the Washington state Department of Ecology, makers of children's products will soon have to report what toxic chemicals are present in their products. The rule is a first-of-its-kind in the nation and targets chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive abnormalities in a wide range of children's products, including toys, clothes, and shampoos.

In 2008, Washington State passed the Children's Safe Products Act, requiring identification of chemicals posing the greatest risk to children. This new rule helps to implement the law's intent. The 2011 rule classifies 66 chemicals—including cadmium, lead, BPA, formaldehyde and phthalates—as chemicals of high concern to children, and most notably requires that children's product manufacturers report to the state if their products contain any of the 66 chemicals.

"This rule advances the goal of ensuring our children have an environment in which they can reach and maintain their full potential free of harmful chemicals. The challenge remains to create a broader approach to chemical policy that requires manufacturers to more fully evaluate potential hazards and make this information available to the public."

- Dr. Steve Gilbert, president, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

While this rule has been lauded by state environmental health advocates, industry is promising to continue to fight the law. In a July 19 letter to the editor of the Tacoma News Tribune, Daniel Simmons, a representative from the American Energy Alliance predicts industry-sponsored lawsuits against the rule, signaling that some industries do not want to disclose the chemicals in their products.

New York tackling chlorinated Tris

In June, the New York legislature passed a ban on the toxic tris flame retardant, called TCEP, in products intended for babies and children with an overwhelming bi-partisan margin. This week, Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law. TCEP is a flame retardant mainly used in automotive cushioning and furniture foam. It is a possible human carcinogen, and is tied to health concerns including liver and kidney damage, and harm to the brain and reproductive organs. In a recent scientific study, TCEP was found in 17% of foam baby products tested. It is no longer produced in Europe and has been identified as a chemical of concern in Canada, due to health concerns.

The sponsor of this ground-breaking bill was Republican Senator Mark Grisanti, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. He praised the bill's passage, saying "Passage of this legislation banning TCEP will help protect this generation and all future generations of children from being exposed to harmful substances containing this deadly chemical." He added, "Protecting our children from dangerous chemicals is a no-brainer and this common sense legislation is a step in this direction."

In praising the ban on TCEP, Stephen Boese, the Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State, reminds us that toxic chemical bans are not only important for the health of future generations but they are also critical to the nation's economy:

"The dramatic rates of learning and neurological disabilities result in personal tragedies, significant health care costs – upwards of $5.4 billion nationally, based on one recent study – and increased burdens on the educational system, justice system and social safety net programs ... We can prevent some of these cases by simply being smarter about the chemicals we use. Passage of the TRIS-free children and babies act is a good step in the right direction."

And several toxics policies are still in play this year. We'll be watching Massachusetts' efforts to pass a safer alternatives bill and a green cleaning bill. California has several bills on the docket protecting residents from environmental harms, including a bill banning the use of Styrofoam (polystyrene) foam packaging. Polystyrene is known to have adverse health effects and is considered a possible human carcinogen. Additionally, Michigan is looking to pass a ban on deca-BDE, one of the harmful chemicals in flame retardants.

If the first seven months of 2011 are any indication, state legislators will continue to respond to the cries of their constituents and understand that Americans want their health and the health of their children prioritized in statehouses across the country.

Additional Resources

2011 State Policy Victories Curb Toxic Chemicals While Congress Lags Behind.
Safer States Press Release, 08/04/2011.

Comments on this post

Thanks so much for this article and the information on all the states compiled in one spot! I can't wait to share this with my readers! Thank goodness that states are doing what the federal government refuses to do!

Thanks so much for this article and the information on all the states compiled in one spot! I can't wait to share this with my readers! Thank goodness that states are doing what the federal government refuses to do!

This article is encouraging to everyone who has been trying to raise awareness about the need to eliminate toxic substances from our environment. Action to ban them by State governments, driven by informed constituents! should be a wake-up call to our Federal Government, to the EPA, to those who represent us in Congress.

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