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Debate Underway on Legislation to Curb Toxic Chemicals

Posted on Jun 11, 2007 | Comments (0)
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Cleaning Supplies may contain toxinsBill Will Prevent Illnesses by Calling for Safer Alternatives.

Last week, officials in the European Union began implementing a major new law that will replace thousands of dangerous chemicals with alternatives.

Meanwhile, the debate has been renewed over legislation proposed in Massachusetts that would create a smaller scale program based on the same principles as the EU law. Supporters and opponents of "An Act for a Healthy Massachusetts: Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals" (H-783/S-558) gathered at the State House on Monday to debate legislation that would protect public health and prevent disease by replacing toxic chemicals with safer alternatives.

Testimony was presented to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

The bill is supported by the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow (AHT), a coalition over 150 organizations -health, labor, scientific, environmental, faith and community groups - working to promote the use of safer alternatives to toxic chemicals. AHT representatives organized 6 panels of supporters to testify in support of the bill at Monday's hearing, including Nicholas A. Ashford, Professor of Technology and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Tim Sullivan, Legislative Director of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO; Love Albrecht Howard of the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition; and Dr. Megan Sandel, pediatrician at the Boston Medical Center.

"Massachusetts has long been a leading state in fostering toxics use reduction by establishing stringent environmental requirements and helping industry -- through technical assistance -- in meeting those requirements," said Nicholas Ashford, Professor of Technology and Policy at MIT. "It is now time to embark on a further industrial modernization initiative focusing on safer alternatives and assisting industry in adopting those alternatives," Ashford said.

A majority of legislators in both houses of the Massachusetts legislature are co-sponsoring the legislation, known as the Safer Alternatives bill, led by Representative Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) and Senator Steven Tolman (D-Brighton). The bill initially targets 10 toxic chemicals found in common household products such as dry cleaning, pesticides, solvents, building materials, foam cushions, and electronics. It mandates a careful process to evaluate and require safer alternatives to these chemicals where feasible. It will assist businesses in the transition and increase the competitiveness of Massachusetts businesses internationally. The bill is co-sponsored by 84 (of 160) Representatives and 30 (of 40) Senators.

"With this bill we have a chance to give Massachusetts businesses a significant competitive advantage and Massachusetts residents will see environmental, worker safety, and health benefits," said Representative Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington). "The bill includes incentives and technical assistance for companies that move to safer alternatives, and the global marketplace is already starting to reward companies that move in this direction. We can pass this bill now and get a jump on our competition or play catch-up later."

The ten chemicals initially targeted by the bill are lead, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (Perc), dioxins and furans, hexavalent chromium, organophosphate pesticides, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), 2,4- dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D).

In July 2005, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts funded the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell to study safer alternatives for major uses of five toxic chemicals. The study identified safer alternatives to major uses of the chemicals, including perchloroethylene, used in dry cleaning, Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) in vinyl products like children's toys, shower curtains and IV bags, and formaldehyde used in personal care products and building products.

"Saving lives and protecting families from the burden of a cancer diagnosis; that is what it comes down to for us," says Erin Boles, Associate Executive Director of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition. "Scientists estimate that between 80-90% of all cancers are linked to environmental factors. With this legislation, we can eliminate the use of toxic chemicals linked to diseases like breast cancer, while promoting the use of feasible, innovative safer alternatives," Boles said.

Legislative sponsors and advocates from the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow proposed the legislation as a response to the growing scientific indications that toxic chemicals are contributing to an epidemic of chronic diseases and disorders, including cancer, learning disabilities, asthma, and neurodegenerative diseases.

"Toxic chemicals in our environment endanger the health of all of us, but they are especially dangerous to the most vulnerable-infants, children, and those in low-income communities," said Senator Steven Tolman (D-Brighton). "The economic cost of this suffering is significant; but what is even worse is the human cost. We are irresponsible as legislators if we do not pass this important legislation and put a stop to these preventable poisons," Tolman said.

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