By Sarah Doll, National Director for 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.
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"
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.
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.
- 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.
Editor's note: After this was published, South Dakota introduced a bill to ban BPA from sippy cups and baby bottles in the state.
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.
Comments on this post
I want to do more. PLEASE give me info on who to talk to, petitions to join, ways to help. My sons and I have been harmed by chemicles and are highly allergic to fragrances in almost all the products. We want them GONE and in their place more environmentally safe and responsible ones!!!
Thank you for your work in making cosmetics safer. I have been
allergic for 30 years and don't use them at all anymore.
Skin allergies stopped completely now that I only use olive oil
as a moisturizer. I live in France and since Americain cosmetics
are sold here, the legislation you pass in the States has good
repercussions here as well. Furthermore all laws past in the US
are a good example for people to follow everywhere. Denmark is doing intensive research on the subject. Continue
the good work! LA
Thanks, xealia! Check out our Take Action page to get in touch with a coalition partner in your state.
I applaud you for your cause and what you are doing to prooect everyone fronm toxic chemicals. I work in the consumer product safety industry and have information regarding toxic chemicals in a P&G/Crest product that is causing chemicals burns in people's mouths and toxic effects to our bodies. I have contacted the FDA, Proctor and Gamble and other organizations without any resolution. There are many people just like me who have already complained about the toxic effects of this product. I want to alert other consumers to the danger and lobby to remove these types of products from the market. If you can help, please contact me. Thank you Cheryl