In one of the most decisive votes of the session the Vermont House supported the regulation of toxic chemicals found in children’s products. The vote was 114-27.
The bill, S.239, gives the Vermont Department of Health the authority to require manufacturers to label or remove toxic chemicals from products sold in the state.
“One of the problems that we face with this whole situation is the immense growth of new chemicals coming into the marketplace without testing,” said Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, the chair of the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee who worked to draft the House version of the bill.
“This bill is to protect children’s health,” Deen told House lawmakers.
Public health advocates say the bill protects consumers of all ages from harmful chemicals linked to cancer, intellectual development disorders, asthma and reproductive health issues.
“This is really an incredible win for children and families in Vermont,” Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said in a statement. “Under this law, kids in Vermont will soon be better protected from the dangerous toxins used in everything from teething rings to teddy bears.”
If the bill is enacted into law, companies would be required to report chemicals in their products to a state website starting July 1, 2015.
Lawmakers opposing the bill were concerned about the cost to businesses for testing for chemicals that may not cause harm, echoing the concerns of manufacturers.
Bill Driscoll, vice president of Associated Industries of Vermont, said companies will have to test for chemicals even if there is no health risk.
“It is a bill about regulating products that contain a chemical that has some health effect linked to it, but has nothing to do with whether it’s in our products in any sort of dangerous way,” he said.
The health department, which supports the bill, said it will use a rigorous scientific method to test whether chemicals in products are at levels considered to cause harm to humans.
The bill defines children’s products as any product used by (or marketed for) children under age 12, including toys, cosmetics, jewelry, products for teething and sucking, and car seats. Electronics, winter equipment and secondhand products are exempt.
Public health advocates and some lawmakers want to see this definition expanded because children use many products, not just those made for them.
“It does concern me to see us limiting it this way,” said Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington. “I’m going to still be quite blind as to many items that are going to be in my household.”
California, Washington state and Maine have enacted similar regulations. After pushback from manufacturers, Deen let the industry draft a bill that “harmonized” with Washington state’s program.
But Vermont’s bill still faced stiff opposition from manufacturers who view it as the groundwork for implementing new regulations on manufacturers of all consumer products.
The state regulates the use of certain chemicals, including flame retardants, Bisphenol A (BPA), mercury and lead. This bill allows the health department to expand the list every other year without legislative approval.
Manufacturers had wanted lawmakers to have the final say in which chemicals are regulated, but Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources rejected that proposal.
“We can no longer face this onslaught, chemical by chemical,” Deen said.
The bill allows the health department to report back to lawmakers next year if it recommends an expansion of regulations to other products.
Under the bill, manufacturers would be required to report toxic chemicals found in their products sold in the state and pay a $200 fee every two years for each of the chemicals they report. The fees would support the program.
Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which amended the reporting fee. He said the fee is an “assurance” that the health department will have enough money to get the program running before reporting back to lawmakers with a budget.
The health department said it has enough money to begin developing the website and listing chemicals that manufacturers already report in other states, but it will need more money to regulate chemicals going forward.
Congress is considering a bill that would ban state legislatures from passing laws regulating toxic chemicals found in consumer products. Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell this month sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives opposing the legislation.
The federal Toxic Substances Control Act has not been changed since the 1970s.