2 March 2018
Environmental Health Group Expects Increased Action by U.S. States to Address Toxic Chemicals
Safer States, a network of diverse consumer organisations and coalitions with shared environmental and health concerns, recently issued a press release highlighting on-going legislative efforts at the U.S. state level to prohibit or regulate more strictly the sale and distribution of products containing hazardous chemicals. Specifically, the organisation states that at least 23 states plan to introduce bills this year to implement 112 separate policies to limit exposures to toxic chemicals, including bans on non-stick per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and toxic flame retardants.
Safer States indicates that state legislatures across the United States are stepping up efforts to protect public health from harmful chemicals “in an effort to fill gaps in chemical protection due to inaction by the U.S. EPA.” Despite the approval of broad-ranging chemical reform legislation in 2016, the EPA has ostensibly “largely failed to take meaningful action to restrict toxic chemicals” and is instead relaxing existing protections. Safer States asserts, for example, that last year the EPA rewrote a rule to make it more difficult to track the health impacts of perfluorooctanoic acid and has also stalled plans to regulate a harmful chemical in some paint strippers. U.S. states therefore intend to take a particularly pro-active role this year to protect consumers from toxic substances despite a provision in the 2016 chemical reform legislation that allows the EPA to pre-empt certain state-level protections.
In all, Safer States expects the following actions to occur in the next year.
- At least 16 states (Alaska, Connecticut, Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia) are expected to consider policies to eliminate toxic flame retardants from residential furniture and children’s products. The association notes that a recent warning by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to avoid a particularly harmful class of flame retardants, known as organohalogens, has persuaded states to regulate these harmful chemicals in electronics, mattresses, children’s products and furniture.
- At least seven states (California, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) will likely consider policies to eliminate or reduce PFAS chemicals in food packaging. PFAS are industrial chemicals used in non-stick coatings on food packaging like microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers that have been shown to cause cancer and organ damage as well as interfere with normal development and limit the efficacy of vaccines. According to Safer States, these chemicals migrate to food from food packaging and also pose an environmental hazard.
- At least seven states (Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington) are likely to consider policies to limit levels of PFAS in drinking water, ban the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam and fund the clean-up of contaminated drinking water.
- At least seven states (Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York and Rhode Island) are expected to consider policies to identify chemicals of concern and/or require makers of consumer products to disclose their use of these chemicals. Safer States notes that state disclosure laws have proven effective in providing policymakers with an understanding of how people are exposed to chemicals from products, with particular recognition of greater exposures among low-income communities and communities of colour. These laws also inform consumers about their buying choices and help manufacturers identify chemicals to eliminate in their products. Disclosure bills under consideration will address various product segments, including fragrance disclosure, cleaning ingredient disclosure and disclosure of toxics in children’s products (including electronics).
According to Safer States, since 2000 more than 35 states have passed 173 separate policies that establish state chemicals programmes and identify, limit or ban the use of harmful chemicals in products such as baby bottles, furniture, electronics, toys, cosmetics and cleaning products.