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Commentary & Opinion

Blair Horner: Toxic Chemicals In Children's Products Act

Lawmakers are set to wrap up the scheduled end of the 2014 legislative session. Typically, this week is “show time” for lawmakers–hundreds of bills are likely to be approved, many more will fail.

One important bill that is seriously under consideration is the “Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Products” Act. If approved the bill would establish a framework for identifying potentially harmful chemicals in everyday children’s apparel, toys and other consumer products. The type of chemicals would include those likely to be a carcinogen, severely toxic or cause significant health problems. Nine toxic chemicals and their compounds, including lead, benzene and arsenic, would be designated as “priority chemicals.” The legislation is designed to promote the removal of the most dangerous toxic chemicals—those that cause cancer, reproductive injuries and interfere with children’s development—from everyday children’s products and promote safe substitution. 

Manufacturers would be required to report their intentional use of the most harmful “priority chemicals” in children’s products within twelve months of such listing. Eight of these “priority chemicals” would be banned for use in children’s products as of January 1, 2018.

The legislation applies to new products only. Products regulated by federal agencies, such as foods and pesticides, are exempted from the bill, as are motor vehicles and watercraft. The legislation does not apply to chemicals used in, or for, industrial or manufacturing processes.  

This legislation represents a paradigm shift over current federal and state laws that fail to prevent toxic exposures. It would oblige a response to the devastating health and environmental problems caused by toxic chemicals before injuries occur. 

This intelligent legislation proposes a preventative, science-based approach—as already adopted by the European Union. The bill is modeled after legislation in Maine and Washington State. 

The primary federal law intended to protect the public from toxic chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”), is woefully inadequate. That federal law was supposed to protect public health and the environment by establishing a way to review the safety of chemicals and, if based upon that analysis a chemical was found to be toxic, ban its use in the U.S. In the nearly 35 years since the law’s enactment, only 200 of the nearly 83,000 chemicals since produced and used in commerce have been reviewed. Only five have been banned. Chemicals such as asbestos—proven to cause cancer and lung disease—have not be banned.

Toxic chemicals are suspected of playing a role in many of the most pressing health issues; including cancer, heart disease, obesity, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, children’s developmental disorders and injuries, and asthma. Moreover, getting these toxic chemicals out of children’s products will protect workers from exposure, reduce overall toxics in the environment and diminish toxic chemicals sent to landfills, recycling programs and incinerators.

Clearly, there needs to be a better way to protect children and the environment.

The legislature has begun to act. The Assembly has passed legislation that addresses this problem and there is significant support in the state Senate. Of the 61 Senators, 39 of them are now sponsors of the bill; including a Republican lead sponsor, all the members of the Independent Democratic Conference and members of the mainline Democrats, plus other Republicans. 

Clearly, with such overwhelming support, this important public health measure could become law this week. It is now up to the overwhelming number of Senators to make sure that this legislation gets approved and sent to the governor.

That’s all for now. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Capitol and will talk to you again next week.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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