Blair Horner: The End Of The Session Should Include Health Protections For Kids

Jun 15, 2015

Lawmakers are set to wrap up the scheduled end of the 2015 legislative session.  Typically, this week is “show time” for lawmakers – hundreds of bills are likely to be approved, many more will fail.

For the second year in a row, an important bill that is under serious consideration is the “Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Products” Act.  If approved the bill would establish a framework for identifying potentially harmful chemicals in everyday children’s apparel, toys and other consumer products.  The type of chemicals would include those likely to be a carcinogen, severely toxic or cause significant health problems. 

Manufacturers would be required to report their intentional use of most harmful “priority chemicals” in children’s products within twelve months of such listing.  Eleven identified “priority chemicals”—such as lead, asbestos and benzene—would be banned for use in children’s products as of January 1, 2018.

This legislation represents a paradigm shift over current federal and state laws that fail to prevent toxic exposures.  It would oblige a response to the devastating health and environmental problems caused by toxic chemicals before injuries occur. 

This intelligent legislation proposes a preventative, science-based approach—as already adopted by the European Union.  The bill is modeled after legislation in Maine and Washington State.  Three counties in New York – Albany, Suffolk and Westchester – have acted as well.

Federal law was supposed to protect public health and the environment by establishing a way to review the safety of chemicals and, if based upon that analysis a chemical was found to be toxic, ban its use in the U.S.  Yet, after 35 years, only 200 of the nearly 83,000 chemicals produced and used in commerce have been reviewed.  Only five have been banned.  Chemicals such as asbestos—proven to cause cancer and lung disease—have not be banned.

Toxic chemicals are suspected of playing a role in many of the most pressing health issues, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, and children’s developmental disorders.  Moreover, getting these toxic chemicals out of children’s products will protect workers from exposure, reduce overall toxics in the environment and diminish toxic chemicals sent to landfills, recycling programs and incinerators.

Clearly, there needs to be a better way to protect children and the environment.

More than fifty years ago, President Kennedy laid out the cornerstones of modern consumer protection.  President Kennedy’s 1962 Consumer Bill of Rights was hailed as opening a new era in consumer protection.  These principles continue to be relevant and vital in 2015.  Included among these were three key principles:

1.      The right to meaningful information;

2.      The right to choice; and

3.      The right to safety.

These rights are so reasonable and so fundamental as to be beyond dispute.  They complement each other and ensure that the other rights are meaningful and realized.  If there is no choice, meaningful information becomes moot; if there is choice, but no meaningful information, consumer choice is illusory.  And if a product is unsafe, information and choice are of little benefit. 

Parents and other caregivers cannot be expected to sample and laboratory test each product for toxic chemicals before a purchase.  And not every parent can afford or find products that are guaranteed to be “toxic free”—if such products exist at all.

Ensuring that children’s products are safe is not only an appropriate role for government; it is an essential role for government. 

The legislature has begun to act.  The Assembly has passed legislation that addresses this problem and there is significant support in the state Senate.  Of the 63 Senators, 42 of them are now sponsors of the bill; including a Republican lead sponsor.  Governor Cuomo has stated that he supports this legislation and that is a priority for him this session.  Yet, so far, the Senate leadership has blocked the bill from consideration.

Clearly, with such overwhelming support, this important public health measure could become law this week.  It is now up to the overwhelming number of Senators to make sure that this legislation gets approved and sent to the governor.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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