Toxic chemicals bill approved

After intense lobbying, toxic chemicals bill barely passes out of Senate

The Vermont Legislature on Friday gave final approval to a bill to regulate toxic chemicals found in children’s products.

The Senate voted 26-3 to concur with the scaled-back House version of S.239, a bill allowing the health department to regulate toxic chemicals in products marketed to children ages 12 and under.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, the bill’s lead sponsor, has pushed all session to expand the scope of the bill to a broader range of consumer products with tougher reporting requirements. Nonetheless, she said the bill is a good start.

“I think the first thing is to get this program in place and make sure it’s working,” Lyons said. “Beyond that, this doesn’t stop us from looking at chemicals that may have a negative effect on adults.”

Disposable diapers, which contain the chemical dioxin used during the bleaching process, could be labeled under Vermont’s law.

“That dye is toxic,” Lyons said. “So now we have the opportunity to look at what is actually there and say ‘this isn’t good for babies.’”

Gov. Peter Shumlin has indicated his support for policy similar to the reporting program in Washington state.

The House this week amended the bill in order to “harmonize” Vermont’s proposed program with Washington’s reporting program – a change Lyons said was the work of lobbyists opposing the bill.

Tensions outside the Senate chamber were high Friday as public health advocates and industry representatives lobbied lawmakers on whether to suspend the rules to allow a vote on the bill. Lawmakers voted 23-7, which barely met the necessary three-fourths majority.

Industry groups lobbied lawmakers to prevent a vote. The policy will create added costs for manufacturers to report chemicals that may not be scientifically proven to cause any harm to human health, they say.

Public health advocates back what they say is a policy to protect consumers from harmful chemicals found in tens of thousands of products sold in the U.S. However, they say the bill should go further to protect consumers of all ages from toxic chemicals.

The health department would report back to lawmakers next year with a budget for the program. The bill sets up a biannual $200 reporting fee for each regulated chemical intentionally added to products sold in the state. The fee will support program costs.

John Herrick

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