Harmful chemicals in consumer products could be banned in Vermont thanks to new bill

Thursday, April 03, 2014 by: Julie Wilson
Tags: harmful chemicals, consumer products, Vermont bill

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(NaturalNews) It's always refreshing to learn about legislation actually designed to protect the public. A recent move by Vermont is attempting to do just that after the state Senate voted 17-11 to require harmful chemicals found in consumer products to be labeled and/or regulated.

Last week, state officials gave the legislation, S.239, preliminary approval. If passed by the House, the Department of Health would have permission to "identify and regulate potentially dangerous toxins," according to Campaign for a Toxic-Free Vermont.

"This bill will help to keep the most dangerous toxins out of consumer products in Vermont," said Taylor Johnson of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), the state's largest nonprofit consumer and environmental advocacy organization. "Everyone from kids to firefighters will be safer because of it. Bottom line, this is a huge win for public health in Vermont."

The entity that's most liable, and theoretically should be providing customers with nothing but the best and safest products, is of course, opposing the bill.

Manufacturers are most upset about the fact they'll be required to pay upwards of $2,000 for each potentially harmful chemical. The money collected will be funneled to the Agency of Natural Resources and the health department for implementing the program.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions and possibly unintended consequences," said Joe Choquette, a lobbyist for the firm Downs Rachlin Martin. "It's very broad. It's not just children's products, it's all consumer products."

However, that's not exactly true.

Items excluded from the bill include electronic devices, ammunition, tobacco, certain pesticides, foods and beverages, and motor vehicle components.

Supporting a chemical-free environment

Perhaps the most impacting testimony in favor of the bill came from the 280 firefighters represented by the Professional Firefighters of Vermont. Ben O'Brien, president of the organization, said in a press conference last week, "As firefighters, EMTs and paramedics, we go to work every day and understand the inherent risks we face."

O'Brien was unwavering when he said, "[W]e have drawn a line in the sand by saying no to harmful and unnecessary chemicals in consumer products. We see far too many firefighters leaving the profession with occupational illnesses.

"Firefighters around the country are experiencing alarming rates of cancer."

Chemicals found in couches, mattresses and baby clothes have been linked to adverse health effects. Studies have linked exposure to certain chemicals found in household items to asthma, cancer, development disorders, infertility and respiratory illnesses.

These chemicals often adhere to the fireman's protective gear, subsequently leading to contact with their skin and resulting in cancer and respiratory illness.

"More firefighters today are actually dying with their boots off than they are from any other job-related cause," he continued.

Vermont has been seemingly progressive in regulating chemicals as they've previously set restrictions on bisphenol A (BPA), flame retardants, lead and mercury.

The bill's leading sponsor, Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, said, "We want to eliminate toxic chemical in our state from personal products, from products that are in our homes and our residences so that when firefighters are called to save lives and save property... they are not exposed to very toxic chemicals that can give them cancer and other chronic health conditions."

If approved, the health department intends to utilize resources they allegedly already possess to develop a list of "chemicals of high concern," and could do so by July 1, 2016.

While suppliers are obviously concerned about cost and inconvenience rather than public safety, environmental groups are insistent on protecting the public.

"This is one of the most comprehensive chemical reform bills in the nation," said Johnson. "At a time when the federal government is utterly failing to provide sufficient regulation of harmful toxins, Vermont is stepping up to protect its citizens and provide a model for other states."

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