The Legislature was guilty of inaction this year. Congress may soon do even worse.
In the final hours of the 2014 legislative session, Minnesota’s senators killed the Toxic Free Kids Act, a bill that would have required manufacturers to report if they use any of nine toxic chemicals in their children’s products. Our leaders appear to have bent to pressure from manufacturers and corporate lobbyists to kill this bill. This is a huge disappointment to parents and health advocates across the state. Minnesota’s legislators have failed to protect our children, the ones most susceptible to harmful chemicals in everyday consumer products.
This failure runs contrary to Minnesota’s past leadership in protecting our youngest citizens from harmful chemicals in products. In 2009, Minnesota passed a first-in-the-nation ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. BPA is a chemical that disrupts hormones in the human body and is linked to infertility, early onset puberty and other health problems. In 2013, Minnesota legislators again led the nation by passing a ban on formaldehyde, a chemical linked to respiratory problems and cancer, in children’s personal-care products (like shampoos and lotions). The 2013 session also saw passage of a ban on BPA in additional children’s food packaging, such as formula cans and baby-food jars.
In addition to passing laws addressing single chemicals, the Legislature has required the Minnesota Department of Health to identify toxic chemicals that children would most likely be exposed to, resulting in a list of the top nine toxic chemicals. These are the chemicals that would have been reported under the Toxic Free Kids Act, so that state agencies would be able to give parents information on which products contain these chemicals.
LDA Minnesota is part of the Healthy Legacy Coalition, a group of parents, grandparents, disability and health advocates, environmental groups, and children’s advocates across the state. The coalition advocates for policies that protect our future generations from rising rates of chronic disease and disabilities linked to chemicals used in everyday consumer products. At LDA Minnesota, we feel it is imperative that there are protections in place to reduce the effects of environmental contaminants on brain development. The National Academy of Sciences reports that 28 percent of cases of learning disabilities are caused in part by exposure to toxic chemicals.
Despite the coalition’s efforts and progress made here in Minnesota, our federal lawmakers might make it all go away with one vote. The U.S. House is considering the Chemicals in Commerce Act (being heard on Thursday), which would regulate how products that citizens buy every day can be formulated, labeled and sold.
As a parent and as an advocate for families affected by learning disabilities, I believe that this legislation puts the public’s health at higher risk than the laws already in place.
First, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would have little ability to restrict existing unsafe chemicals. The current law places a heavy legal burden on the EPA, and this new rendition seems to continue that practice.
Second, “new” chemicals would be more likely to enter the marketplace with little or no testing under this act. The EPA would have little power to restrict new and unsafe chemicals in consumer products.
Third, the act would designate high- and low-priority chemicals. Chemicals considered to be of “low priority” would be out of reach of the EPA or states to review for negative health effects — indefinitely.
Last, and most disturbing, the Chemicals in Commerce Act would roll back any state actions taken before the passage of the federal act. This would mean any progress that Minnesota’s legislators have taken to protect our children would be null and void.
Whose interests are our state and federal legislators looking out for? When our elected officials are killing the Toxic Free Kids Act or discussing the Chemicals in Commerce Act, are they thinking of the families that they are supposed to be serving? I hope they consider our children that eat soup from cans lined with BPA and our babies and young children who sit in bathtubs with shampoo containing formaldehyde and phthalates on their heads.
When will we wake up and demand clean, safe environments for all of our youngest citizens? I implore the Minnesota House delegation to oppose the Chemicals in Commerce Act on Thursday. I also urge Minnesota legislators to courageously take action next year and pass the Toxic Free Kids Act.
Martha Moriarty is executive director of LDA Minnesota, a nonprofit helping people at risk of learning disabilities.
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