House reneges on toxic chemicals agreement, Lyons says

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, said the state should invest in thermal efficiency programs during a news conference at the Main Street Landing train station in Burlington on Thursday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

A House version of a bill to regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products will not have an easy time in the Senate, the bill’s lead sponsor said.

“I think we’ve budged as far as we can go,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, who introduced the legislation.

House lawmakers Wednesday voted to strike several Senate changes expanding the scope of S.239, including Lyons’ amendment allowing the health department to require manufacturers to label or remove chemicals it considers harmful from products that children come into contact with.

Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, chairman of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, worked with industry representatives this session to limit the program’s scope to products marketed to children 12 and under.

“If it were my personal choice as opposed to making a public policy that affects all of the manufacturers in Vermont … I would want anything a kid could possibly touch in the bill,” Deen said. “In order to facilitate manufacturing in the state of Vermont, that’s an incredible burden.”

With three days left before planned adjournment, Lyons said the House changes will not fly in the Senate. The changes return the bill to the original House version, she said, and were not part of an agreement ironed out over the weekend with House lawmakers.

“If they are going to go back on that agreement that would be unfortunate,” Lyons said. “It would do exactly what people who are opposed to the bill want to have happened. And that would be to kill it.

“Would you rather kill the bill or kill the children?” she said.

The Shumlin administration does not want to create a program that burdens manufacturers and supports the more lenient House version of the bill.

“It’s just not clear,” said Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, referencing the Senate’s definition of children’s products.

“It’s really important to use that as it goes forward … that it be clear,” Johnson said. “In order to protect kids and do what the bill wants to do, you don’t want to be caught all the time arguing back and forth about what it means.”

He said a “workable” bill is one that achieves a maximum benefit to public health and a minimal cost to manufacturers and the state to administer the program. This means adopting legislation consistent with existing state programs, he said.

“An out-of-state company, frankly, has the option to say ‘I’m not going to sell here,’ if they think the burden is too high,” Johnson said. “We’re not the biggest market in the world. An in-state company, on the other hand, is here, and what do they do?”

Industry representatives, who have lobbied hard against the bill this session, support the House’s version of a program intended to “harmonize” with Washington state’s reporting program.

“It’s easier to comply with,” said Bill Driscoll, vice president of the trade organization Associated Industries of Vermont. “We oppose setting up a statewide regulatory regime. But between the two, we prefer the House version.”

Andy Hackman, a lobbyist for the Toy Industry Association, said he opposes a Senate amendment that requires manufacturers to report to the health department all chemicals “present in” products sold in the state. This is a change from only chemicals “intentionally added” to products.

This would be a large departure from Washington state’s program and would require manufacturers to report a wider range of chemicals that may not pose a threat to human health, he said. The bill also sets up a biannual $200 reporting fee to support the program.

The House voted Wednesday to return the bill’s language to “intentionally added.”

Janet Doyle, a representative for IBM, said she opposes a Senate amendment that would give the health commissioner authority to determine whether certain chemicals are considered trade secrets and therefore exempt from the reporting requirement.

“I would question the commissioner’s background and ability to make that judgment,” Doyle said.

Lyons’ amendment this week gave the health commissioner full authority to regulate chemicals. The previous House version required a working group set up under the bill to first make a recommendation on whether to regulate chemicals. The House reinstated that clause Wednesday.

House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources vice chair Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston, supports the Senate’s version. He warned the bill would “disappear into a black hole” if the House did not concur with its counterpart, which, he said, “has the greater wisdom” on the issue.

In the latest version of the House bill, the working group is composed of scientists, a Vermont business and toy industry representative, two public health advocates and other members appointed by the governor. Both the House and the Senate agree the working group strikes a balance between industry and public health advocates.

Lyons said it is a sad day when the state does not have the support that it needs to protect children from toxic chemicals.

“There are more lobbyists in this building than we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “We know that the American Chemistry Council and the Toy (Industry) Association is working in 50 states to keep states from having any regulation in toxic chemicals on consumer products and apparently it’s working. And it’s working from the top down in our government.”

John Herrick

Comments

  1. Paul Lorenzini :

    All I read was the headline, and it reminds me of Alan Greyson, a Florida democrat and staunch Anthony Wiener supporter. Democrats have Greyson and Wiener in in their can! Hooray for that!

  2. Dan Thompson :

    “An out-of-state company, frankly, has the option to say ‘I’m not going to sell here,’ if they think the burden is too high,” Johnson said. “We’re not the biggest market in the world. An in-state company, on the other hand, is here, and what do they do?”

    They do what many many (former) Vermont companies do; move out of state to a place that does not create “feel good” legislation, and treats business’s poorly.

  3. Annette Smith :

    Environmental health in Vermont is an area that is neglected and has no home in the legislative committee structure. Is it a health issue, and environmental issue, a water issue?

    Vermonters are exposed to chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides despite the passage in the 1980s of the Pesticide Reduction Act which set a goal of reducing pesticide applications in the state. The group charged with implementing that goal has turned into a rubber stamper of approvals for the railroads and utilities to apply toxic herbicides and pesticides. Unless something has changed recently, they have never discussed agricultural chemicals.

    Farmers use chemicals, such as those used on large farms to ward of a foot disease, containing formaldehyde. The used foot bath is then dumped in manure pits and land applied.

    Agrimark/Cabot got an exemption from building a wastewater treatment plant in the 1990s, and now land applies its toxic wastewater in more than 30 towns in Vermont.

    Areas that receive the formaldehyde-laden manure and Agrimark/Cabot’s wastewater have neighbors with a lot of illnesses. Serious illnesses.

    There are a lot of issues to address, should there be political will to do so. The financial aspects of knowingly enabling poisoning people are obvious: increased health care costs. But then, more drugs and surgery fuel the pharmaceutical industry and improve the Gross Domestic Product. There is money in sickness!

    It’s laudable for the Vermont legislature to tackle industrial chemicals that are contained in manufactured products, something that the EPA, FDA, and federal organizations have turned a blind eye to, so that tens of thousands of chemicals are added to consumer products without knowing what health effects they may have.

    However, there are some tough issues to address right here in Vermont, especially in terms of openly allowing toxic chemicals to be disposed of in the environment, and evidence of harm to many Vermonters because of past legislatures’ enabling of bad corporate practices. Will next session’s legislators have the courage to take on these issues in their own back (and front) yards?

  4. Ben Graham :

    How can people really argue that some business is really more important than our children’s health?
    This question unfortunately permeates so much of our world. People think money can make us whole.
    Its delusional and making us all unhealthy. Haven’t we learned enough from the past?

  5. Patrick Cashman :

    “Would you rather kill the bill or kill the children?” she said.
    A good sign of a true fanatic; the inability to acknowledge the space between extremes.

  6. Ron Pulcer :

    Rather than buying plastic toys made in “who knows where”, how about shopping local in downtown Rutland at Micheal’s Toys. He makes handmade wooden toys. Local wood, local toys. Keep the dollars in Vermont.

    http://www.michaelstoys.com/

    These toys are also mostly “biodegradable”!

    Perhaps the Governor could use a little bit of his $4.5 Million “Vermont Enterprise Incentive Fund” to help create local businesses; manufacturers and craftsman to make products for children and families in every Vermont downtown. Think of all the vacant storefronts that could get filled!

    http://vtdigger.org/2014/04/14/shumlin-announces-4-5m-cash-incentive-program-retain-attract-businesses/

    But I’m sure that the Gov’s $4.5 Million is mostly intended for much larger businesses.

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