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Chemical Industry Doublespeak

Posted by SAFER States on Apr 15, 2013

While industry talks out of both sides of its mouth, we ask "which is it?"

While industry talks out of both sides of its mouth, we ask Which is It?

This month, state legislatures across the country are working to pass bills protecting families and children from the dangerous health effects of toxic chemicals. We are hearing of many good fights, and many bills heading toward wins. You can see the bills — and follow their fights — with our Bill Tracker.

Safer States' National Director, Sarah Doll, recently talked about progress so far this year: "Our state partners are talking to me on a nearly daily basis this spring. Vermont's ban against Tris—a toxic flame retardant chemical—has passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority and is now onto the House. Oregon has made progress on HB 3162, which requires makers of children's products to disclose presence of chemicals of concern in products. And Washington State's flame retardants bill is progressing through the legislature despite a tough fight from industry. Every win is a step toward safer products for all of us."

None of the fights are easy; each tiny step forward toward safer products is met with vociferous opposition. The opposition is made up of large chemical corporations like ExxonMobil and Dow and the organization that represents them—the American Chemistry Council (ACC), as well as the Toy Industry Association which represents large toy corporations. If you go to the websites of these organizations, they seem to be looking out for the health and welfare of consumers. But each time states try to pass laws which would get toxic chemicals out of everyday consumer products like couches, beds, computers, children's toys and food packaging, industry opposition is in the hearings, arguing for these bills to be defeated.

Here's the thing that has us scratching our heads: in statehouses across the country, these groups are opposing state bills in part because they say that they would prefer nationwide regulation. In Washington State last month, the ACC opposed efforts to regulate toxic flame retardant chemicals, saying "It is the role of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine if chemicals are safe for use."

We here at SAFER are big supporters of national regulation that follows in the states' good example. But we just don't buy that the chemical industry is on board with us. In fact, despite their claims of support, the industry has been blocking every national effort to regulate toxic chemicals, just like they've been fighting efforts in the states. Every year, they spend millions of dollars on Capitol Hill, swaying Congress and regulatory agencies to keep away from their profits.

And while they claim that they are "constantly looking at ways to provide information to the public about chemicals in the products they use every day," we have seen first-hand evidence of industry's efforts to thwart disclosure of chemicals in every day products. When Washington State passed a policy requiring reporting of chemical use by toy manufacturers, the chemical industry and its allies lined up to express loud opposition to this policy which would provide parents with the most information in the country to the chemicals in their kids' products.

In 2011, after a particularly bitter fight to ban bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups on a national level—an effort that was thwarted by backroom, last-minute efforts by industry—Senator Feinstein commented, "I know too well how stubborn this industry has been to listen to science and concerned consumers and how heavily they lobbied lawmakers."

Even with this heavy lobbying, eleven states did the hard work of banning BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups. Manufacturers realized that fighting the ban was a losing battle, and took the unusual step of asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directly to ban the chemical from baby bottles and sippy cups, directly citing the number of state bans that had passed.

States succeeded where the federal government could not, and it eventually led to a change on the national level.

Last summer, Cal Dooley of the ACC called the Safe Chemicals Act, which would overhaul national regulation of toxic chemicals, "extreme." And we haven't seen any reasonable efforts by industry to offer up their version of legislation that would even begin to be acceptable on all sides. Our partners at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families are reporting that Senator Vitter (R-LA) is writing an alternative bill to the Safe Chemicals Act, one that is being heavily influenced by chemical companies like Dow and ExxonMobil. Industry is attempting to write its own rules on the federal level.

So this is where we ask industry: Which is it? Are you really just against state chemical laws because you'd prefer a national solution? Are you going to get on board with toxic chemical regulation on a nationwide level? Or are you just opposing regulation wherever it crops up—and hoping we won't notice?

Because the past few years have proven that the regulation is coming. The public and lawmakers are no longer willing to trust that the chemical industry and its allies know what's best when it comes to chemicals in household products. We don't need industry's backroom opposition and empty claims of support. We don't need industry's doublespeak. We need industry to listen to the rising tide of parents, kids, lawmakers, and everyday citizens who are standing up for safer products and safer lives. We need industry to support real reform—or get out of the way.

Comments on this post

Did they think we wouldn't notice the hypocrisy? C'mon! I can tell you I've emailed and called my VA Senators to let them know that signing up for the Vitter version of reform will not fly for VA residents!

With government, as in big business, the allmighty $ is what counts.

Short term thinking.

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