Industry heavyweights come to Vermont to oppose toxic chemicals bill

Bill Driscoll, vice president of Associated Industries of Vermont, testified before the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee against a bill to regulate toxic chemicals in children's products. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Bill Driscoll, vice president of Associated Industries of Vermont, testified before the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee against a bill to regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Global technology giant IBM has joined the opposition to a Vermont proposal to regulate chemicals in children’s products that the state’s health department considers harmful.

Big Blue was part of a chorus of major industries against the plan, a list that includes the Toy Industry Association, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Keurig Green Mountain and Wal-Mart.

“If you’re going to be considering potentially taking away somebody’s livelihood, we need to be sure there’s an actual harm, an actual exposure and a risk from those products,” Janet Doyle, a representative for IBM, told the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Committee.

The Vermont Senate this year passed one of the toughest policies in the nation to regulate toxic chemicals found in all consumer products, business lobbyists said. The groups have successfully downsized the bill in the House, limiting the scope of the chemical reporting requirement to children’s products. The legislation creates a program comparable to Washington state’s program.

The large corporations are concerned that even if the law only applies to children’s products, the bill cracks the door open for further regulation and will cost their companies thousands in reporting fees.

Companies fear Vermont’s program would impose costs on businesses for reporting chemicals that might be safe in small amounts. They want the state to make a stronger case when requiring companies to label or remove chemicals found in their products, according to Bill Driscoll, vice president of the trade organization Associated Industries of Vermont.

“That’s why I think there might need to be some sort of standard, not just that it is linked to these health effects, but at what level of exposure do you need to actually have those effects,” Driscoll told lawmakers.

“If it’s something that you need to eat a truckload a day for a year to have a cancer risk, then that’s not a really a meaningful risk that would warrant listing,” he said.

The bill creates a working group of representatives from a public interest group, a health advocate, a scientist and businesses. Only when this group recommends action can the health commissioner regulate chemicals considered to be a risk to public health.

Starting point

Environmentalists and public health advocates have watched the bill weaken in the House. Now they seek to ensure that the bill’s scope expands over time.

“Starting out with children’s products – consistency with Washington – could be way to get it up and running, but limiting ourselves in that way in the long term is certainly limiting the health protections under the bill,” said Lauren Hierl, a lobbyist with the group Vermont Conservation Voters.

Children’s products are defined under the bill as any product used by (or marketed for) children under 12 years of age, including toys, cosmetics, jewelry, products for teething and sucking, and car seats. Electronics, winter equipment and second-hand products are exempt.

Nick Carter represents Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, an organization that considers toxic chemical exposure a “top health care risk.” He recommended expanding the scope of the bill over time to include all consumer products.

“I think even for protecting children under 12, you’re not actually doing them full service by limiting it to just children’s products,” he said. “I’m not sure what world that is where children limit themselves to products that are designed for them.”

Exposure to certain chemicals has been linked to harmful health effects for all ages: cancer, intellectual development, reproductive health – including altered semen quality, sterility, menstruation and fertility – and other effects not limited to children’s direct contact with toxic chemicals, Carter said.

Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, chair of the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, is working on a bill to regulate toxic chemicals found in consumer products. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, chair of the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, is working on a bill to regulate toxic chemicals found in consumer products. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Committee Chair Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, said he supports a provision that would expand the rulemaking authority to a broader range of products. That’s why he inserted a provision that asks the health department to report to lawmakers next year on whether to expand the scope of products.

Deen will decide whether to allow the health department to regulate chemicals without legislative approval. Businesses want lawmakers to have the final say, but public health advocates say the process is too slow.

“Is that a good way to reach an end to protecting Vermonters? Now, I don’t have an answer to that question yet,” he said. “I’m leaning toward rule-making, but that’s a lean.”

Over-reaching, businesses say

Currently, the legislature regulates chemicals one at time, and has done so for mercury, bisphenol A (BPA), lead and flame retardants. Industry groups prefer the legislative process because it allows them more involvement.

“It’s beyond the scope of the Department of Health and it’s really something that is more appropriately fleshed out and debated in the Legislature for the various stakeholders,” Driscoll said, “especially when you look at the breadth of this legislation.”

Committee Vice Chair Rep. Jim McCullough, D- Williston, disagrees, calling the process “tortuous.”

“For me, I don’t like the onus being on our shoulders every year, and I perceived that to be a real slowdown for the benefit of industry,” McCullough said.

Business groups say they support consumer safety, but the bill, which includes a $2,000 reporting fee for each chemical to support the program, would be burdensome, especially for businesses already reporting to other states, Driscoll said.

But other businesses support stronger regulation, citing studies that estimate the national public health cost of childhood exposure to toxic chemicals at $76.6 billion annually.

“I hope that the Legislature looks beyond the immediate interests from entrenched industries to a healthier future for all Vermonters,” said Martin Wolf, director of product sustainability and authenticity for Seventh Generation.

He said regulating toxic chemicals in consumer products will open the market for a “green chemistry” industry.

“When you don’t regulate these chemicals,” Wolf said, “what you’re doing is codifying current practices and actually blocking innovation into new technologies.”

The committee is expected to vote on the bill Friday.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering a bill that would ban state legislatures from passing laws regulating toxic chemicals found in consumer products. The Vermont Attorney General on Thursday sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives opposing the legislation.

“Protecting Vermont’s children and adults from toxic chemicals is an important function of the State, which we share with the federal government,” Bill Sorrell said in a statement, “and we must ensure that we continue to have the legal authority.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this article indicated that Burton Snowboards opposed S.239. The company in testimony said it supports the bill’s intent but preferred a federal law or a version that aligned more closely with other states.

John Herrick

Leave a Reply

34 Comments on "Industry heavyweights come to Vermont to oppose toxic chemicals bill"

1000

Comment Policy

VTDigger.org requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Be succinct and to the point. If your comment is over 500 words, consider sending a commentary instead.

We personally review and moderate every comment that is posted here. This takes a lot of time; please consider donating to keep the conversation productive and informative.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage a civil discourse among readers who are willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. VTDigger has created a safe zone for readers who wish to engage in a thoughtful discussion on a range of subjects. We hope you join the conversation.

Privacy policy
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Randy Jorgensen
2 years 5 months ago

Pretty soon the only industry left in Vermont will be the Ski Industry. At that point Rep. David Deen will surely be telling us snow making is toxic to our health.

Kai Mikkel Forlie
2 years 5 months ago
Yea, I know, right? We should so be permanently polluting the air, water and soil in exchange for a few quick bucks. Screw our kids, screw the climate and screw the environment. Money, money, money! Thousands of years of human history preceded the last hundred or so – the latter known as the Age of Oil. Its naive to think that the only way to live and prosper is to exist the way we have for the last century plus. Its time for all of us to remove the blinders. We absolutely don’t have to forsake health and happiness for… Read more »
ruth sproull
2 years 5 months ago

I understand the concern of industry heavies regarding data on whether or not certain chemicals are unsafe. However, if what the industry produces DOES contain elements which are harmful, the public should be notified AND the industry should bear the cost of clean up. Too often, the public/taxpayers pick up the tab in higher medical costs, environmental clean-up, etc. It seems like this legislation is a good first step in making the various industries accountable financially for what they produce.

Walter Carpenter
2 years 5 months ago

“harmful, the public should be notified AND the industry should bear the cost of clean up. Too often, the public/taxpayers pick up the tab in higher medical costs, environmental clean-up, etc. ”

I agree , Ruth. Too often the industries do not care and we are the ones left with cleaning up after they have made their money and gone.

Dave Bellini
2 years 5 months ago

Are you guys getting the idea that business is sick of Vermont’s over-regulation? IBM’s future in Vermont is in question and now you’re poking Keurig?
.
Where’s all the “job creators” now? Every politician claims they’re going to “create jobs”, well this is creating jobs in other states.

Bob Stannard
2 years 5 months ago

Dave, are you getting the idea that maybe some Americans are sick of getting sick for the sake of corporate profits?

Kyle Kubs
2 years 5 months ago

If what you want is completely unrestrained development and “growth” at any cost, with peoples health and children’s lives coming in far down the ladder to corporate profiteering and pleasing the investors, head south, New Jersey has all you want of that. Take a good last look at the trees on your way out.

Kai Mikkel Forlie
2 years 5 months ago

Well said! 🙂

Wayne Andrews
2 years 5 months ago

Why is Fish and Wildlife dealing with chemicals found in products?

Kelly Cummings
2 years 5 months ago
TOYS and TOXINS? I can’t believe we even have to argue over this. Is this really happening? So here we are, another day another corporation or their association crying poor mouth. All in defense of their being free from any regulation that might safeguard the people. Let’s see here. This go round we’ve got IBM, Toy Industry Association, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Burton Snowboards, Keurig Green Mountain and Wal-Mart. Last week it was Monsanto, the biotech industry and the Vermont Grocers Association and the week before that….well, the list goes on. Wal-Mart? I can’t help but highlight Wal-Mart as… Read more »
Kyle Kubs
2 years 5 months ago
“If we want to be able to drink our water, breathe our air, eat our food, take safe prescribed medicines, drive safe vehicles, vote and have it count, have handicapped access, educate all our children, have real healthcare for all, have safe toys for our children, etc., etc., etc……I could go on and on, we need regulation. When profits are involved, without regulation, the well being of the people, the very heart of our democracy, is often the first consideration to be thrown into the trashcan.” Well said Kelly. and too dam true. “Not only have the excessively monied, greedy… Read more »
Kai Mikkel Forlie
2 years 5 months ago

Exactly!

Ron Deetz
2 years 5 months ago

Fish and Wildlife may be involved because many of our “products” tend to end up in our streams, rivers, lakes, and wildlife areas, affecting land and water quality for both humans and other animals.

Ralph Colin
2 years 5 months ago
There are no guarantees in life that we will be protected from everything. Just as with every other animate and living thing, we must take chances every day. The state can not regulate every aspect of our lives. The next thing that the General Assembly may wish to control is to put a speed limit of 10 miles an hour on our driving so that we’ll be sure not to hit anything that might cross a street. Then we won’t be able to build anything higher than five feet off the ground because a stiff wind might come along and… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 5 months ago

So then it’s OK to turn a blind eye to those who would use toxic chemicals in kid’s toys?

OK, I get it.

sandra bettis
2 years 5 months ago

don’t these companies have any shame??? they are against a bill to regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products????

sandra bettis
2 years 5 months ago

ibm has been leaving for a long time – it has nothing to do with ‘over regulation’ (think what happened with wall st when they were no longer ‘over regulated’) or health care (which they are fine with in other countries) – it has only to do with their bottom line.

sandra bettis
2 years 5 months ago

if people/companies were so unhappy with vt’s taxes etc, they would’ve all moved to nh by now. there are tons of reasons to stay in vt – one happened yesterday in the state senate. one reason people come to vt is our ‘greenness’ – if we are filled with toxic chemicals….

Sally Shaw
2 years 5 months ago

Thank you David Deen and VT Legislature for moving forward with ways to balance the corporate bottom line business model (which has corrupted most federal regulatory agencies), with VT-made standards that recognize our right to life, health, and a healthy environment for our children. Keep leaning toward rulemaking.

Katharine Hikel, MD
2 years 5 months ago

So let the toxic-producing industries (including most of health care LOL) leave, and take their supporters with them; then maybe we’d have an environment to study & see if cancer & other disease rates actually went down, which I bet they would (and then maybe a gal could actually eat a fish she catches in Lake Champlain).

Joyce Travers
2 years 5 months ago

Wow. This sure got their attention. Makes me wonder what they don’t want us to find out about their products and production methods. What good is job creation if what we are making is slowly poisoning us? It’s all about the money – they could not care less about any damage done. As for attracting businesses to Vermont – why would we want to attract companies that do not care about the pollution they create?

Kathy Leonard
2 years 5 months ago

I asked GM Keurig on their Facebook page why they are opposed to this legislative effort, and they replied by asking me to email them privately so they could answer my question. I suggested they answer it publicly so others can hear the answer….sounds like they want to keep this hush-hush?

Come on, Keurig, I’m sure others would like to know.

Kathy Leonard
2 years 5 months ago

Note, John Herrick: This story appears at the top of this site this morning:

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/

Kathy Leonard
2 years 5 months ago
Kathy Leonard Why is GM Keurig objecting to updating the toxics law the legislature is proposing? Like · · 3 hours ago Green Mountain Coffee We would like to provide more information, Kathy. Would you send us a private message? Like · Reply · 3 hours ago Kathy Leonard A private message? Why can’t you provide a public message so others can hear what you have to say? (This makes it look like you’re hiding something). Like · 2 hours ago Green Mountain Coffee Kathy, Although we respect the goal and intent of the bill, we don’t believe it is… Read more »
Kelly Cummings
2 years 5 months ago

Thanks for sharing this Kathy. Good follow up question. Their answer just didn’t make much sense did it?

Jason Wells
2 years 5 months ago
As much as I have no trust whatsoever for just about any company you have to ask yourself just why is it that IBM and others who do not make kids toys are upset. I think they had it right by saying this opens the door to more and more regs. I completely understand this is about nothing more than profits (for them) but this sort of stuff does not just affect them. Just think of stuff like seat belts that was a law passed as a secondary offense now many want to upgrade it to primary and just today… Read more »
Moshe Braner
2 years 5 months ago

The real face of “Green Mountain Coffee”…

Wayne Andrews
2 years 5 months ago

Seems to me the good ole Vermont govt is the only one that can measure anything, create a study, then a rule, create a problem and find themselves being the only ones that can remedy their problem.
Pretty damn soon its going to cost $5 for a thermostat and $100 to throw it away.

John Greenberg
2 years 5 months ago

Wayne:
“Pretty damn soon its going to cost $5 for a thermostat and $100 to throw it away.”

IT ALREADY DOES. It’s just that someone else has been paying the bill.

That’s how externalizing costs works: things look cheap, because taxpayers (or those who get sick when the product is thrown “away”) end up absorbing the costs instead of those making or using the products.

Connie Godin
2 years 5 months ago

Should be Health Department not Legislature.

2 years 5 months ago
Corporations have proven over and over again that they don’t care about their employees, their communities, or their country. It’s all about the top 5% grabbing ridiculous amounts of money on the backs of the workforce. Anything that comes out of their mouths should be viewed as a lie, not unlike most politicians. If we want a better society, we need to build it ourselves. Lets start by supporting all the people out that that are LOCAL. If we focus on supporting the industries we know are not going to poison us or cause environmental damage, then we starve those… Read more »
Paul Lorenzini
2 years 5 months ago

How many of you played with Legos? maybe even chewed on a few?

2 years 5 months ago
The federal government is totally corrupt. Members of congress and the president are functionally paid stooges for whatever wealthy special interests provide them with cash for their political campaigns and/or are threatened by wealthy entities which will launch million dollar media campaigns to paint them as traitors to America. The regulatory agencies are headed by people who bounce between being heads of the regulatory agencies and the higher ups in the entities they regulate. Therefore, we can expect no meaningful assistance from the federal government. If we want to make sure that there is consumer protection involved in the decisions… Read more »
Terry Burke
2 years 5 months ago

The total irony of Planned Parenthood of New England being concerned with the health of children is beyond ridiculous. There’s got to be some hidden $$$ agendas with this bill that aren’t easily apparent. What is even more ironic is that the worst source of toxic chemicals that aren’t being prohibited are being pumped into kids through vaccines. Chewing on a toy a few times doesn’t begin to come close to the toxicity that pharmaceutic companies are assaulting them from a few hours after birth.

wpDiscuz
Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Industry heavyweights come to Vermont to oppose toxic chemicals bill"