Governor signs toxic chemical regulations bill

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at the signing of a law that regulates toxic chemicals in children's products. The ceremony took place at Seventh Generation in Burlington. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at the signing of a law that regulates toxic chemicals in children’s products. The ceremony took place at Seventh Generation in Burlington. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday signed into law a program to regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products.

“It enables parents of all Vermonters, to make informed choices when buying products for their children,” Shumlin said at a bill signing outside Seventh Generation’s Burlington headquarters.

Shumlin pointed to Seventh Generation, the manufacturer of environmentally safe household products, as an example of “toxic-free” business practices the law hopes to encourage by requiring manufacturers to report toxic chemicals in their products.

“This is a basic consumer right to know bill,” he said.

The Vermont Department of Health will list potentially harmful chemicals on its website starting July 1, 2016. The department will have full authority to regulate these chemicals, including requiring manufacturers to label or remove them from their products for children.

Exposure to certain toxic chemicals can cause cancer, developmental disorders, brain damage and respiratory problems. Tens of thousands of these chemicals in consumer products are untested and unregulated.

“I am still appalled at how many toxic chemicals we still allow manufactures to put into everyday products,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. VPIRG was one of several public health groups pushing lawmakers to take action on the issue this year.

“These are products that we buy on store shelves day after day,” he said. “And they include products that are targeted specifically to children, even toys.”

Lauren Hierl, political director for the Vermont Conservation Voters, has been pushing for years for the regulatation of toxic chemicals in consumer products.

“As a parent, for the first time, I’ll be able to go on the Department of Health’s website and figure out does this product contain harmful chemicals that I don’t want my children exposed to,” she said. “And ultimately we’re on the path to getting the chemicals out of our products all together.”

Other states, such as Maine, Washington state and California, are starting similar programs. Vermont’s law is modeled on Washington’s reporting program, but further regulates chemicals.

Shumlin, who is the head of the Democratic Governors Association, said it is important that other governors pass similar laws. He said states should not wait for a Congress that has “trouble doing anything” to reform the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, a largely ineffective toxic chemical regulatory program.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, the law’s lead sponsor, said Maine has spent $644 million to treat health issues related to toxic chemical exposure.

“This bill sets us in a new direction,” she said. “It sets us in a direction for health care savings. And its sets us in a direction for saving our next generation.”

The regulation is an incentive to move toward a more sustainable economy, some businesses say.

“Regulating the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products will create a stronger, healthier and more sustainable economy,” said Andrea Cohen, executive director of the trade group Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, in a statement.

“Giving consumers more information about dangerous chemicals found in products they purchase will expand the market in Vermont for clean, green and safe products.”

Only manufacturers that intentionally add these chemicals to their products will be required to comply with the law. They will have to report a list of chemicals used in their products to the state starting July 1, 2016. The state will increase the number of chemical requiring manufacturers to report every two years.

Children’s products are defined as “any consumer product, marketed for use by, marketed to, sold, offered for sale, or distributed to children” in the state, such as toys, cosmetics, jewelry, products used for sucking or teething, clothing, and child car seats.

The are several exemptions in the law for snow sport equipment, secondhand products, and electronics. Manufactures can request a waiver.

A panel of appointed representatives from the scientific, business and public health communities will make recommendations to the health commissioner on which chemicals should be regulated.

It remains unclear how much it will cost the state to administer the program. Businesses will pay a biannual reporting fee for each chemical in their product that the health department finds may be harmful.

The health department will report back to lawmakers next session with an estimated cost of the program.

Health Commissioner Harry Chen was not at the bill signing but said in a statement his department is ready to implement the law.

“Using good science to inform Vermonters of, and protect them from, toxic chemicals is the right thing to do,” he said in a statement.

John Herrick

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