Effort to limit chemicals in kids' products finds better luck in Oregon … – OregonLive.com
Some Oregon legislators and lobbyists hope the third time’s the charm for a bill aimed at keeping potentially dangerous chemicals out of children’s products.
Senate Bill 478, which originates from failed 2013 legislation, would require manufacturers and importers of children’s products to report any that contain “high priority chemicals of concern,” such as formaldehyde, arsenic and mercury. The bill’s most controversial component: An eight-year phase-out of the chemicals from select products.
The plan has drawn fervent support from parents, environmental and medical groups – as well as former Gov. Barbara Roberts and Josie Cannistra, an eighth-grader at Portland’s Sunnyside Environmental School, who collected 161 signatures from her classmates.
But its opponents, lobbyists in the toy and chemical industries, say the federal government should bear the burden of regulating chemicals in children’s products.
Although the bill hasn’t reached either chamber for a vote, it passed a milestone last week: The same committee that killed a similar bill last year moved it one step closer to a Senate vote with a recommendation for passage.
Some of the provisions
Senate Bill 478 would apply to products for children younger than 12, including:
• Clothes and jewelry
• Cosmetics, such as makeup, lotion and some bath products
• Car seats
• Pacifiers and cups
It would not apply to products including:
• Bicycles and tricycles
• BB guns, pellet guns and air rifles
• Computer and video games
• Food and drinks
Some of the 66 chemicals it covers are:
• Arsenic (exposure may cause lung, bladder and skin cancer)
• Formaldehyde (inhalation may cause cancer in the respiratory tract; it’s also a skin, eye and respiratory tract irritant)
• Mercury (some forms cause brain damage; others are linked to developmental disabilities)
• Cadmium (accumulates in the liver and kidneys; high levels can cause organ damage)
• Cobalt (may contribute to lung cancer)
“In the Legislature, you can never count your chickens before they’re hatched, but having said that, I feel optimistic,” said Angela Crowley-Koch, legislative director for the Oregon Environmental Council and one of the bill’s principal champions.
The proposal has morphed over the years as sponsors tried to reach an elusive combination of mandates and exceptions that would seal approval in the Legislature.
“It’s tough anytime you’re fighting multiple industries and lobbyists,” said sponsor Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene. “It’s difficult to get a win for health and the environment. That’s why it’s taken three sessions.”
It also helps that Democrats increased their majorities this session by one seat in the House and two in the Senate.
In 2009, Washington enacted a similar measure that requires manufacturers and importers to report to the state the presence of 66 chemicals in clothes, cosmetics, car seats and other products designed for kids younger than 12. Research has linked some of the chemicals to child developmental disabilities and diseases.
Under Oregon’s bill, the Oregon Health Authority would create a list identical to Washington’s but could add as many as five chemicals every three years. The phase-out provision is unique to Oregon and applies only to children’s cosmetics, products meant for children younger than 3, and products meant to be put in the mouth such as cups and pacifiers.
The bill allows several exceptions: Businesses that make less than $5 million a year in sales don’t have to report or stop using the chemicals. And businesses don’t have to comply if they can prove that replacing a chemical with another substance would be technically or financially unfeasible.
Groups that oppose the bill say federal regulations already protect children from toxic chemicals and that even well-meaning state regulations would only muddle compliance. Congress is currently considering updates to the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Tim Shestek, director of state, local and public affairs for the American Chemistry Council, said in an interview Friday that navigation of state-by-state regulations can become “a logistical nightmare” for companies. The bill also errs in assuming a “chemical of concern” should be removed from products, he said
A small amount of chlorine can disinfect drinking water, for example, while a large amount can be deadly, he said.
“Suggesting that you can paint chemicals with this broad brush, that they are either toxic or nontoxic, does not stand up to a sound scientific evaluation,” he said at a hearing for the bill this month.
Crowley-Koch called that argument “really misleading.”
“They’re trying to put a burden of proof on the average consumer, who is not a biochemist, as opposed to the company that is purposely putting the chemical in the product,” she said. “Parents and consumers shouldn’t have to be biochemists when they go the store.”
If the bill passes, it won’t be cheap. Washington’s ecology department estimated reporting would cost businesses a combined $22.4 million to $34.8 million during the first year and as much as $69.5 million during the first 20 years. Oregon would spend about $500,000 during the next four years to enforce compliance, according to the bill’s fiscal statement.
Edwards, whose 13-year-old son is on the autism spectrum, said any strategy that may prevent developmental disabilities in children is worth the expense.
“The long-term tradeoff in cost is a no-brainer,” he said. “Playing with our children’s health is a lot more expensive than simply getting these worst-of-the-worst toxic chemicals out of children’s toys.”
– Jacy Marmaduke