While parents, consumers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, clergy, businesses and environmental health advocates are demanding better protection from the hazards of toxic chemicals, they are often strongly opposed by industry groupsorganizations and front groups that make their profits peddling products that aren't good for our health.
These groups include the American Chemistry Council, the Toy Industry Association, Citizens for Fire Safety and many others who use bully tactics and the dirty tricks to defeat legislation and ensure toxic chemicals continue to be relatively unregulated.
Advocating for safer chemicals in the states can be a tough fight. Often states are up against big money, opponents who don't play fair, and messy politics. But we are still winning. In fact, policies that protect communities from toxic chemicals have been enacted in over 34 states. And those wins have led to protections well beyond the borders of those states.
A few weeks ago, the Center for Pubic Integrity released a jaw-dropping report on the American Chemistry Council's lobbying activities in the states. Backed by a $100 million annual budget, the chemical industry's lobby had their fingers in just about every state legislature considering policy to regulate toxic chemicals this year.
So yes, there can be big money against us, which can make for a harrowing path to victory at times. But states, backed by consumer demand, are continuing to win. Here are some recent highlights from the states:
- Vermont passed the first-ever ban on two forms of toxic Tris flame retardants in home furniture.
- Minnesota passed the first-ever ban on formaldehyde in children's personal care products, and also passed a ban on BPA in children's food packaging.
- Maine overcame massive ACC influence to ban BPA in baby food containers, after identifying safer alternatives to the hormone disrupter.
- Washington required product manufacturers to reveal the toxic chemicals in more than 5,000 children's products.
- Nevada adopted a ban on BPA in baby food and infant formula containers.
- California is on the verge of adopting new regulations to require companies to identify safer chemicals and materials for use in consumer products.
These victories, some small and some big, are creating a safer world. They require companies to stop using harmful chemicals. And they send a message to the marketplace that toxic chemicals aren't welcome, no matter how much industry pushesand it's a message companies are starting to hear.
As we've seen before, wins in one state can encourage other states to adopt their own versions of these policies. And once there is a critical mass of state victories, the federal government starts to take notice and take action. We wouldn't have a federal phase out of Deca-BDE flame retardants, or a FDA ban on BPA in baby bottles, without strong precedents from the states.
Of course state health advocates have lost state legislative fights this year too. But those states are coming back in 2014 stronger than ever, determined to protect public health. Ultimately, the state drumbeat, backed by citizen demand, will drown out ACC and their allies, and we'll have safer chemicals for our kids and our world.
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 Trisa toxic flame retardant chemicalhas 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 themthe 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.
Click through the web site belonging to the Toy Industry Association (TIA) and you'll read about dedication to providing Americans with creative and fun toys. And really, what's more fun than toys? But behind TIA's seemingly positive face lies a more nefarious goal: laser-focused dedication to the bottom line of the companies it represents, at the cost of the health of children. We have heard from organizations throughout the country who say that TIA lobbyists show up at state hearings, opposing rules that would give the public a true insight into the chemicals that are in toys.
Much like the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the TIA wields hundreds of thousands dollars in some states trying to defeat bills and policies which would protect the public from toxic chemicals like bisphenol-a (BPA), formaldehyde, cadmium and phthalates in our children's most prized possessions: toys. Children sleep with toys, put them in their mouths and even put them in their food. And sometimes those toys contain chemicals that can negatively affect children's cognitive function and development, skin and respiratory systems, and can increase the risk of cancer later in life.
Seven manufacturers reluctantly disclosed that the chemical BPA is present in 280 plastic toys, in the first chemical use reports submitted under Maine's Kid Safe Products Act, a chemical safety law bitterly opposed by the toy industry (pdf). BPA disrupts hormones in the body, harms brain development and reproductive health and may contribute to obesity and diabetes. Because of growing concern about threats to healthy childhood development, BPA has been removed from virtually all baby bottles and formula can linings. Why then is it OK that BPA is present in the toys that the children pick up once they put down their baby bottles?
Nicholas Kristof this week wrote about the strategic and methodical ways the chemical industry is trying to get Congress to stop talking about what chemicals cause cancer. We have written about the industry's continuing attacks on policies promoting safer chemicals, and it is encouraging to see national journalists talk about the same thing.
"The industry’s strategy is to lobby Congress to cut off money for the Report on Carcinogens, a 500-page consensus document published every two years by the National Institutes of Health, containing the best information about what agents cause cancer. If that sounds like shooting the messenger, well, it is," says Kristof.
He goes on to talk about the American Chemistry Council and its role in Washington.
"The chemical industry is represented in Washington by the American Chemistry Council, which is the lobbying front for chemical giants like Exxon Mobil, Dow, BASF and DuPont. Those companies should understand that they risk their reputations when they toy with human lives."
If you've been reading this site for a while, you've read our posts about Citizens for Fire Safety (CFFS), a front-group which represents the major manufacturers of toxic flame retardant chemicalscompanies like Albemarle Corporation, Chemtura Corporation and ICL Industrial Products.
After a summer of increased pressure from the media, citizens, state legislators and Congress (one which began with an investigative series from the Chicago Tribune which called out CFFS for deceptive practices in defeating state toxic flame retardant laws), it seems that things have gotten too hot for the corporations behind CFFS, and CFFS has been disbanded.
The Chicago Tribune yesterday reported that the major manufacturers have cut ties with CFFS, and the website had been taken down. Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL Industrial issued a statement that said that the companies would be moving their lobbying efforts to the American Chemistry Council.
So, while this is a success story as the disbandment of Citizens for Fire Safety means one less deceptive entity to fight good laws in the states, there is no doubt that the companies will still be spending millions of dollars lobbying against toxic chemical laws and policies.
"More people now know about the dirty tricks employed by the toxic chemical industry because of the outrageous practices of Citizens for Fire Safety and I, for one, am glad to see them go. Whether they hide behind a front group or the ACC, these companies still are motivated by profit at the expense of our health. However, policy makers are now more aware of how these companies operate and how harmful these chemicals are to our families. As a result, I think we’ll see even more state legislation to phase toxic flame retardants out in 2013," said Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, Campaign Director for Washington Toxics Coalition.
In the past ten years, the Safer States have passed 93 laws, rules and policies which will help protect the residents in those states from harmful chemicals. The new laws will keep children safe from hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA), keep workers safe from the harms of toxic cleaning supplies at work, keep families safe from lead, and start to reduce the prevalence of harmful flame retardant chemicals.
And at nearly every turn, the advocacy organizations working for fair laws that protect the most vulnerable are opposed by industry organizations backed by billions of dollars of influence.
Opposition comes from many sides, but one of the loudest voices is the American Chemistry Council (ACC)a trade association representing over 150 of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world, including the $46 billion chlorine industry and the plastics industry which touches every part of our lives. While industry representatives say they are in favor of the creation of stricter guidelines for toxic chemicals, but the truth is that they work to oppose them at every turn.
It's a wonder that any toxics laws get passed in the nation, given the heft of the opposition.
Compare the millions of dollars spent on opposition to the resources of those working for safer chemicals: most have little manpower to allocate for lobbying work, and cobble together an annual budget with donations and grants. Legislative work is often supplemented with the participation of concerned moms, health professionals and scientists who are moved to help not because of money, but because it's the right thing to do.
One of the reasons that toxic chemicals are so pervasive is because they've been able to work their way into our homes under the radar. Our cans of tomatoes don't list BPA in their ingredients, our crib mattresses don't advertise that they're stuffed with carcinogens, and our lipsticks aren't named "luscious lead."
It takes some digging by scientists, legislators and journalists to realize what's going on. But thankfully, they've been able to expose many of these dangers—especially when it comes to toxic flame retardants.
We've long been concerned with flame retardants. These chemicals claim to make us safer, but have been linked to all sorts of health concerns including cancer.
A recent series in the Chicago Tribune tracked the long practice of chemical industry deception when it comes to flame retardants, and how they've entered our homes even though they don't make us safer. This deception has played out in state legislatures across the country (check out our post). Now chemical flame retardants are receiving much needed scrutiny across the country and, hopefully soon, in Congress too.
August 14, 2012
In June, Cal Dooley of the American Chemistry Council called legislation to protect American families from toxic chemicals "extreme." Since then, we've heard from people all over the country who disagreethey know that caring about toxic chemicals isn't extreme. It's not partisan, and it's not political. It's a human issue. And, for some clergy members, it's even more than that.
The Reverend Laura Everett is the executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. She says that safeguards aren't extremethey're necessary, and tie into the spiritual work she does every day.
"Safer chemicals are urgently needed if we're going to protect all of this good Creation and God's children from health damage associated with persistent toxic chemicals."
Thankfully, Congress is listening to the voices of people like Rev. Laura and others, and has passed the Safe Chemicals Act out of committee. But we still have a way to go to make sure the bill gets the votes it needs when it comes to the floor.
Will you join Rev. Laura and legions of moms, dads, clergy, physicians, nurses and citizens and notify your Senator that you support the Safe Chemicals Act? The time is now. Take action using the buttons below.
The collective jaws of the Safer States coalition members dropped last week when we read this letter (pdf) from Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC). He claims that the ACC has not lobbied on behalf of flame retardant chemistries in state legislatures and state agencies. Many of the Safer States organizations have direct evidence refuting this confusing claim.
In May, the Chicago Tribune wrote a series covering dirty tactics by the chemical industry--specifically the flame retardant industry--that insiders have known for some time. The chemical industry wields billions of dollars of influence to knock down state laws one-by-one, as the states are exercising more power than the federal government when it comes to banning toxic chemicals.
“I had a front row seat to the despicable tactics and distorted science served up by the flame retardant industry to the Maine Legislature. For the ACC to now claim they had no hand in that would be funny if it weren’t so appallingly untrue, it only serves to further undermine their credibility,” said Representative Bob Duchesne via a press release. Rep. Duchesne witnessed ACC lobbyists testifying against flame retardant policies as a member of the Maine Legislatures Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
That's why it was so confusing to read the Cal Dooley letter last week. On the heels of the Tribune series, 21 legislators wrote a letter to the ACC (pdf) asking that the unethical manufacturers of flame retardants be expelled from the industry trade group.
Dooley's response was fast and simple: "ACC does not advocate with state legislatures or state regulatory agencies on their behalf related to flame retardant chemistries. ACC is not affiliated with Citizens for Fire Safety, and neither ACC staff nor resources were used to support activities undertaken by the group."
This month, the Chicago Tribune wrote an investigative series uncovering dirty tactics by the chemical industry that insiders have known for some time.
The series focuses on toxic flame retardants, and the methods used by industry to keep pumping millions of pounds of them into our household goods each year despite health risks and questionable effectiveness.
Flame retardants are found in all manner of household goods, including couches and other furniture, carpets and electronics.
Among other things, the Tribune investigation uncovered:
- Completely fabricated stories used during testimony told in order to garner sympathy about threats to children from fire.
- Grossly distorted findings about the effectiveness of flame retardants when it comes to retarding fire. "The fire just laughs at it," said the lead author of a study that is often cited as proof that fire retardants save lives.
- Direct connections between the chemical industry lobby and the tobacco lobby.
- A concerted effort by industry to knock down state laws one-by-one, as it is known that states are exercising more power than the federal government when it comes to banning toxic chemicals.