Hazardous Chemical Crackdown Gains Momentum in States

In California, you may soon see double takes from people looking to buy a car seat or high chair for a baby. Some products will carry a stark warning:

"This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm."

That's because the state made a notable addition last week to its list of cancer-causing chemicals: chlorinated Tris — a flame retardant highly prevalent in baby products made out of polyurethane foam. Under California's 1986 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act , companies are required to warn consumers when listed chemicals are found in products.

Chlorinated Tris is one of several flame retardants that were eliminated from children's pajamas in the 1970s, but it has since shown up in other children's products, in the bodies of pregnant women, and in the children themselves. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the chemical may present "a significant risk to consumers."

Although public health advocates would rather see a federal ban on chlorinated Tris, they are applauding California's decision, saying that it adds evidence to the notion that hazardous chemicals are a growing concern in state government.

An August analysis by Safer States, a coalition of environmental health advocacy groups, found that seven states had passed a total of nine new toxic chemical regulations in 2011. In the previous eight years, 71 laws had passed in 18 states.

In June, Washington State enacted one of the strongest chemical regulatory policies in the country, adopting rules that classify 66 chemicals as "of high risk to children" and require companies to disclose whether the chemicals are in their products.

Such policies have seen broad bipartisan support in state legislatures. Through 2010, bills signed into law had majority support not only from Democrats but from Republicans in all but three states — Iowa, Nevada and California.

This trend comes amidst what public health advocates say is the federal government's failure to address toxic chemicals. The Toxic Chemicals Control Act of 1976, the primary federal regulator of hazardous chemicals, has yet to be updated — even as advances in manufacturing technology have increased the prevalence of the chemicals in products.

Regulation of the chemicals will stay uneven until federal law is updated, says Sarah Doll, national coordinator for Safer States. Most states have only been able to address chemicals a few at a time. Doll says she hopes the momentum from state legislatures will lead to changes at the federal level.

Before the end of the year, Congress will examine the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 , legislation which would drastically reform the 1976 law. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced the bill in April, has tried to drum up bipartisan support. This summer he held meetings co-hosted by Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican. 


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