Senate bill would give state more authority to regulate toxic chemicals

Federal regulations for reporting toxic chemicals in consumer products have not changed in decades, but Vermont is poised to join other states to label – and possibly ban – products containing chemicals considered harmful to public health.

Vermont has passed legislation to regulate the use of certain chemicals one at a time, including flame retardants, Bisphenol A (BPA), mercury and lead. But a new proposal would allow the Vermont Department of Health to expand this list every other year without legislative approval.

The bill, S.239, asks the department to create a list of potentially harmful chemicals and require manufacturers to label or remove toxic chemicals from their products – a proposal that has alarmed businesses across the country.

Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Harry Chen testified last week before the Senate Committee on Economic Development. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Harry Chen testified last week before the Senate Committee on Economic Development. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

“Ultimately, we think industry should welcome some degree of regulation and transparency to provide the public better products and safer products,” Health Commissioner Harry Chen said in testimony last week before the Senate Economic Development Committee.

But some manufacturers say the list of toxic chemicals could be bad for business in Vermont. Some companies spend millions each year to report chemicals in their products in states with similar existing regulations, industry representatives told lawmakers drafting the bill.

Owen Caine, manager of state affairs for Consumer Specialty Products Association, which represents household products industry, opposes the bill.

“When states try to take on this kind of role, it creates a very complicated patchwork of different conditions about what chemicals can and cannot be used in different states throughout the country,” Caine said.

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility supports the bill.

“Regulating the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products will create a stronger, healthier and more sustainable economy,” the trade association said in a statement.

The bill cleared the Senate Health and Welfare Committee (where it was introduced by Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden) and was then taken up by Senate Economic Development to address business concerns.

Sen. Kevin Mullin (center), R-Rutland, listens to testimony last week before the Senate Committee on Economic Development. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. Kevin Mullin (center), R-Rutland, listens to testimony last week before the Senate Committee on Economic Development. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

“I’m trying to bring the tension level down and let everybody know we’re not on a witch hunt,” committee Chair Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said last week. “We’re just trying to protect people from bad chemicals.”

The committee later revised the bill to exempt electronic products and any chemicals found in ammunition for air rifles, such as lead. The bill was voted out of committee Friday and the full Senate will vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday.

Environmental groups support the bill. It would protect consumers against the harmful effects of toxic chemicals, according to Lauren Hierl, political director for the Vermont Conservation Voters.

Asthma, obesity, infertility and cancers are some of the health effects of chemicals found in products sold in Vermont, she said. “They are just exacerbating these bad health trends,” she said. Hierl said she does not expect Vermont to ban chemicals that do not have a replacement.

Elliot Burg, an assistant attorney general, said the bill does not raise any constitutional red flags.

“I would say that I don’t see any constitutional problems with this bill,” Burg said.

He said the bill, which includes protections for industry trade secrets, does not discriminate against any one business. Vermont has already banned chemicals scientifically proven to be harmful to health, he said.

Congress has been working on legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. The law was passed in 1976 and gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to review chemicals. Many believe the current law in inadequate and outdated.

Burg said the Vermont Attorney General’s Office is still hoping for federal reform, but he said “if states decide to go further, that’s not a bad thing.”

The U.S. Senate’s version of the reform legislation includes a provision that would prevent states from regulating toxic chemicals. Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell is among nine attorneys general opposing that language in the congressional legislation, according to a July 2013 letter.

Under Vermont’s proposed system, the health department and an advisory committee would compile a list of chemicals considered harmful to health, require manufacturers to disclose to the state these chemicals found in their products and mandate that the chemicals be either labeled or not sold in the state.

“I’m certainly comfortable it will put us on a path that in the absence of federal action can make some progress,” Chen told the committee.

He said the department has the resources to begin compiling a list of chemicals it considers harmful.

Comments

  1. Paul Lorenzini :

    Start with pharmaceuticals please.

  2. Coleman Dunnar :

    This legislation would put Vermont on a very slippery slope. What makes the list would be subject to the capriciousness of the legislature. Save time why not ban all chemicals. An argument can be made for inclusion of any chemical on the list even oxygen…. Just the cost it imposes on society due to corrosion, it’s not safe there wouldn’t any fires if we got rid of it …think of the lives and property that would be saved etc… Oh and nitrogen causes the bends in diver’s that ascend to quickly – let’s keep the list short just ban all the elements…..
    There is good reason to keep these decisions on the federal level at least there is more serious vetting than from this shot from the hip and ask questions later the current body politic currently running the show operates under. Two plus years into the process on health care and we still haven’t heard how much it will cost and how it will be paid for….. Just to give an example of how diligently policies are vetted before they become law.

  3. Annette Smith :

    The use of formaldehyde on some dairy farms has been allowed to continue, with the known carcinogen permitted to be dumped in manure pits and land applied. The Ag Agency says they cannot regulate it because it is an “economic poison” (their word). The Department of Environmental Conservation says they have no authority to regulate it because it is used for an agricultural purpose.

    No matter that farmers have an alternative and there is a lot of sickness around the farm fields where the formaldehyde-containing manure is spread. No matter that the Vermont Health Department chose to side with the farmers using and dumping the formaldehyde. It is great to see the Health Department suggesting that there should be more disclosure of toxic substances. But how about doing something simple in this instance and protect public health?

    It would be a simple matter to regulate the disposal of the used formaldehyde-containing hoof treatment by requiring that it go out as a hazardous substance, which is how it is labeled when it comes to the farm.

    For more about the details, read this excellent piece by Ken Picard
    http://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/is-the-use-of-formaldehyde-on-vt-dairy-farms-making-people-sick/Content?oid=2145146

    Then please call the Senators and Reps. on the Agriculture Committees and ask them to stop allowing dairy farmers to dump a known carcinogen into manure pits or spread it on farm fields. Farmers can still use their “economic poison” if they want. Just stop exposing everyone else in the area to it, please.

  4. carrageenan – the new chemical that is in “ORGANIC” foods – approved by the FDA!

    http://www.cornucopia.org/shopping-guide-to-avoiding-organic-foods-with-carrageenan/

    How Carrageenan affects people:

    http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/carrageenan-natural-ingredient-you-should-ban-your-diet#.

    If the Government has brought this problem under the spotlight it is because the people are not serious about purchasing foods that are healthy. We only need to read the label to decide if we want these chemicals in our bodies. All processed foods should be avoided, they all contain harmful ingredients. Health “watchdogs” have been telling us this for 40 years or more but I guess if it is killing us slowly so we shouldn’t be concerned, till we have to dial 911.

  5. sandra bettis :

    businesses are alarmed??? why are busineses always ‘alarmed’ when anything that is good for the environment is suggested???

  6. timothy price :

    Good intentions? Just what we need: more laws, more legislation. How about more openness, more education, more labeling, and less restrictions on freedom? It is a dangerous world out there…. from the disease-care industry that pushes drugs on us, to the GMOs and herbicide criminals, the “drug war” and an ever less believable US government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporations. I want less restrictions on what we can or cannot do, but a huge increase in information available and an honest press to report it.

  7. Gyan Baird :

    Since the Federal government is failing to protect us from harmful chemicals, states must step in. I fully support this bill and hope that lawmakers can examine the chemicals used in fragrance products, cleaning supplies, and laundry products. There are many people needlessly suffering from chemical exposure to these products that harm the nervous system, endocrine system, respiratory system, and more. Look around and see how many people are having to wear masks to be in public places that use these chemicals. They need help today!

  8. Wayne Andrews :

    The problem will this bill that I can see is the delegating of law to a third party to make “laws” via changing the hazardous list without our representatives having a future say. Maybe banning farmers use of formaldehyde now is fine now but how bout a future ban on something the minority needs to use? I cannot think of a product now for that is not my expertize but I am sure it may one day being the active ingredient in gasoline which might have to be removed and may add to the purchase cost of gas unnecessarily. Its the over-reaching environmentalist creating their barred list is what worries me.

  9. Concern about harmful chemicals in products sold in Vermont is commendable. I support the Vermont Department of Health and S. 239. I also would like to raise another health concern. What about chemicals in gasoline that could threaten the quality of a life-giving liquid, water, specifically Montpelier’s drinking water, if boat and snowmobile access to Berlin Pond is continued ? The pond is already vulnerable to contamination because of its proximity to I-89, because of the laxity in the City’s and State’s monitoring of the pond’s tributaries, and because of the present inadequacy of the filtration plant for removing gasoline chemicals. The Vermont ANR seems to recognize the need to prevent gasoline from entering the pond, but I believe that the Agency should go beyond simple stopgap measures and do a complete reassessment of the pond’s vital role in the health of Montpelier residents, as well as that of the many state, federal, and business workers who spend much of their week in our city. Since moving to Montpelier in the mid 1980s, I have found traces of sediment in my tap water, an indication of incomplete filtering, but fortunately, not a cause for undue alarm. Nonetheless, I installed a water filter on my kitchen faucet, for peace of mind. On a couple of occasions in local establishments, I have been offered the choice between bottled water or “Montpelier water.” To learn now that harmless sediment could be the least of my worries has prompted this comment and I hope that Vermont government, including our governor, will see to an appropriate solution of the problem.

  10. Ellen Fiske :

    I support this bill. The substances would just not be allowed to be undisclosed in products sold in the state. They could be either labeled or not be in products. That’s fair.
    I agree, about pharmaceuticals and formaldehyde. Both need to be addressed.
    And in the future, as new chemicals get created, those will need to be evaluated as to whether they get put on the list. If it’s more expensive to do without a health-destroying chemical, it’s worth it, not to destroy the health of lots of people, which is expensive later. Taking lead out of gasoline is one example of a good decision in that area.

    What constitutes a “need” to use a chemical? Somehow humans survived for millenia, without formaldehyde and so on.

    Yes! A bill that protects the ordinary citizen! One of few, but this is a good start.

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