Toxic-Free Kids

The State of Oregon is one signature away from joining Washington, Maine, Vermont, and California in passing its own state-wide toxics law. Oregon’s Toxic-Free Kids bill overwhelmingly passed the state Senate and House this month and is now on Governor Kate Brown’s desk.[1]

The bill calls for the state to create and maintain a list of high-priority chemicals that are of concern for children.[2] Manufacturers of children’s products would need to notify the state if their products contain one or more of the designated hazardous chemicals. If a safer alternative is available, the manufacturer must use it. If not, they are required to disclose the toxic chemical being used.[3]

Seems simple enough. But, why do Oregon and other states need a chemical policy to protect children from toxic chemicals? Aren’t children’s products—and other products in our homes—safe?

Not necessarily. The job to keep toxic chemicals out of everyday products and out of our daily lives falls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And the one and only tool at their disposal is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This law is old, outdated and broken, without even enough teeth to ban asbestos, a well-documented carcinogen that sickens or kills thousands of people each year.[4]

In fact, under TSCA the EPA has only been able to successfully restrict the use of 5 chemicals and currently only requires testing on a small portion of the 85,000+ chemicals approved for use.

Meanwhile, chemicals known to disrupt the hormone system, impair brain functioning, cause reproductive harm, lead to birth defects, or increase cancer risk find their way into children’s toys, kitchen pans, couches, flooring, mini-blinds, baby car seats, electronics--and into our homes and our bodies.

State legislators aren’t the only ones recognizing the need for better protection. Consumer advocacy groups have been pressing Congress to take action for years. And finally this summer, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation, the TSCA Modernization Act (HR 2576), with 398 "yes" votes to 1 "no". The House bill has broad support from health and environmental groups.

The U.S. House took a big step in the right direction, and now it's the Senate's turn. The U.S. Senate has the opportunity to take up the House bill and make the critical improvements for which the public health and environmental community is calling.  Or, they can get bogged down in the quagmire that is S. 697, the Senate's version of TSCA reform. Introduced earlier this year, S. 697 is far too complex, problematic, and weak. The Senate bill is strongly opposed by the Ecology Center and many other public health and environmental organizations.  

So, now it’s also your turn. Your voice is needed right now to encourage our Senate leaders to take up the House version (with perfecting amendments) instead of S. 697. Neither bill is ideal. But, the House version, by focusing on a few fundamental problems with the current law, is clearer, more concise, and enjoys much broader support. It also doesn’t block states from taking action on a chemical before the Federal Government does.  

By contrast, S. 697 would curtail years of advances made by states such as California, Maine, Vermont, Washington, and Oregon. If made into law, the Senate bill could allow a chemical with limited safety data to be labeled “low priority”, leaving future testing of that chemical far down the road. This determination would also paralyze a state from taking any regulatory action on the chemical, even if the state categorizes it as a chemical of concern.

And what about chemicals restricted by the U.S., such as lead and phthalates?  S. 697 contains a loophole that could allow imported goods to still contain those hazardous chemicals at levels higher than what is allowed for U.S. manufacturers. Lastly, S. 697's chemical review schedule, set at 25 chemicals over the next eight years, is far too slow and continues to leave Americans vulnerable to unnecessary exposures to toxics.

Take Action Today! Contact the Senate leaders and urge them to take up the House’s TSCA Modernization Act; rather than S. 697.

The Ecology Center and its partners will still work for improvements to create a strong final bill. The House version gives advocates the needed leg up to put the health of consumers above corporate bottom lines. Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of each bill. Visit Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

[1] Hessel, Kaellen. Toxic Free Kids Act heads to governor. Statesman Journal, 3 July 2015, 20 July 2015.

[2] 2015 Regular Session: SB 478 B. Oregon State Legislature, 20 July 2015.

[3] Hessel, Statesman Journal.

[4] Mesothelioma Death and Mortality Rate. Mesothelioma Center, 20 July 2015.