[Pharmwaste] Oregon Legislature considers toxics in consumer
dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Mon Mar 30 13:38:38 EDT 2009
Breaking News Impact - The Oregonian - OregonLive.com
Oregon Legislature considers toxics in consumer products
Posted by Scott Learn, The Oregonian March 29, 2009 21:31PM
Upholstered furniture, mattresses and televisions can contain the fire
retardant decabrominated diphenyl ether, a possible human carcinogen. A
proposal in the Oregon Legislature would largely ban it by 2011.
Should Oregon have more say over the chemicals used to make your baby's
bottle, her toys, your dishwasher detergent and your sofa?
The Legislature gets to answer that question this session, with a dozen
bills targeting the chemical hazards of everyday life.
Potential toxics on the hit list range from fire retardants in
upholstered furniture to phosphates in dishwasher soap to plastic
additives in baby bottles and soft plastic toys.
The chemicals are commonplace. They're found at low levels almost
everywhere, including human blood and urine, umbilical cords, breast
milk, drinking water, birds and fish. They're also part and parcel of
our consumer economy.
That's what makes them so tough to legislate.
Activists concede that, in most cases, the science isn't lock-tight that
the low doses harm people or the environment. The amounts found in blood
and drinking water are almost always well below levels the federal
government considers unsafe.
But the crammed legislative agenda comes as more studies raise concerns
about potential toxics in consumer products, particularly the effects on
infants and children.
Given the federal government's go-slow history with mass-produced
chemicals -- including lead, the now-banned pesticide DDT and PCBs, a
mostly banned industrial insulator -- a cautious state approach makes
sense, said Renee Hackenmiller-Paradis, environmental health director
for the Oregon Environmental Council.
"In the long run, that's going to save a lot of suffering and a lot of
dollars," she said.
Targeting chemical hazards
Upholstered furniture, mattresses, televisions: Can contain the fire
retardant decabrominated diphenyl ether, a possible human carcinogen.
Proposal: Largely ban by 2011.
Plastic baby bottles, sippy cups: Can contain bisphenol-A, which the
National Toxicology Programs says raise "some concern" for health
effects in fetuses, infants and children. Proposal: Bar sale of consumer
products for children under 12 containing BPA.
Soft plastic toys, baby lotion, baby shampoo: Can contain phthalates,
some of which have shown reproductive toxicity in animal studies.
Proposal: Bar sale of consumer products for children under 12 containing
Automatic dishwasher detergent: Can contain phosphorous, which causes
oxygen-depleting algal blooms in rivers. Proposal: Bar dishwasher
detergent with more than minimal amounts of phosphorous.
Fluorescent bulbs: Contain small amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin.
Proposal: Require manufacturers to pay for recycling.
Rechargeable batteries: Contain toxic heavy metals, a persistent water
pollutant. Proposal: Require manufacturers to pay for recycling.
Paint: Can contain a variety of chemicals, including volatile organic
compounds, an indoor and outdoor air pollution. Proposal: Initiate a
pilot paint recycling program.
Cleaning products (e.g. drain cleaners, most oven cleaners, some toilet
bowl cleaners, some rust removers; solvent-based cleaning products, such
as spot removers, degreasers, and some furniture polishes and metal
polishes): Can contain ingredients that irritate lungs, skin and eyes;
can accidentally poison children. Proposed action: Require schools to
use green cleaning products by 2011, unless not "economically feasible."
Pesticides: Wide variety of human and environmental effects. Proposals:
Require schools to minimize pesticide use; require foresters and farmers
within a quarter mile of a school to provide written notice before
-- Scott Learn
The drive to crack down on chemicals faces a big political obstacle,
said Terry Witt, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter:
the down economy.
"It's a double whammy," he said. "You're requiring more of agencies that
have less money, and you're applying more regulation and expense on
The most sweeping bill, House Bill 2141, would expand the definition of
hazardous substances to include products containing chemicals with
long-term health effects. It would require labeling standards that can
include the word "caution" or "warning." And it would give the state
authority to ban products.
Two other bills target chemicals in products designed for children under
12. One, HB2792, would require the Department of Human Services to
identify priority chemicals and allow DHS to require manufacturers of
children's products to use safer alternatives, if available.
The second, HB2367, would bar sales of children's products with more
than trace amounts of the plastic additives bisphenol-A and six types of
phthalates. Most famously, that includes baby bottles containing
bisphenol-A, the latest subject of dueling health claims and studies.
Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, chairman of the House consumer protection
committee, said the bills are not about "banning every chemical under
the sun." State regulators can draw on existing studies and research.
"Just like a doctor would do, we should have the ability to look at
peer-reviewed studies and ask, 'Is this something we should be concerned
about?'" Holvey said.
Industry groups lining up against the bills included the American
Chemistry Council, Procter & Gamble, the Oregon Metals Industry Council
and the International Bottled Water Association.
Rep. Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill, vice chairman of the consumer protection
committee, said it makes more sense to let federal agencies take the
Many manufacturers have global reach, said Tim Shestek, director of
state affairs for the chemistry council, making it tough to comply with
a potpourri of state policies.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug
Administration and other agencies are studying consumer product
chemicals now, and Congress is debating whether to revamp U.S. toxics
"These are complex decisions that involve groups of scientists and lots
of detailed information and research," Shestek said.
Last summer, Congress cut allowable levels of lead and six types of
phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), chemicals used to bind fragrances in
shampoo and lotions and soften plastic in toys and lunchboxes.
Other Oregon bills would require manufacturer-funded recycling of
rechargeable batteries and mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs, and
pressure schools to use green cleaning products and fewer pesticides.
So far, the legislation that's moved farthest is Senate Bill 596, which
would ban most uses of the fire retardant decabrominated diphenyl ether,
classified as a possible human carcinogen, by 2011. It passed the Senate
Deca-BDE is widely used in consumer products, including mattresses,
upholstery and televisions. But Washington and Maine, which are already
phasing out the chemical, concluded there are safer substitutes.
Like many consumer chemicals, the fire retardant gets into the
environment and people via airborne dust and sewage treatment plants.
Like DDT and PCBs, it lasts for decades and accumulates in aquatic life,
said Travis Williams, Willamette Riverkeeper's executive director.
Private and public land owners in Portland Harbor, a federal Superfund
site on the Willamette, are likely to spend tens of millions cleaning up
PCBs and DDT from river sediment.
"It's hard to even fathom that this could happen again," Williams said.
Manufacturers are fighting the Deca-BDE ban, arguing that the evidence
of harm is minimal. The chemistry council is fighting the ban on
bisphenol-A, or BPA, a potential reproductive toxic.
Last year, the council successfully beat back a BPA ban in California,
helped by an FDA study that said infant exposure to BPA from baby
bottles and other food containers is 2,000 times lower than levels of
But a later report issued by the National Toxicology Program cited "some
concern" for brain and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and
children. Canada banned BPA from baby bottles. Europe decided not to.
Many retailers and manufacturers are ahead of lawmakers. Wal-Mart and
Toys "R" Us decided last year to stop selling baby bottles made with
Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality is also setting a list of
"priority persistent pollutants" to reduce water pollution.
The draft list includes 175 potential toxics, from pesticides to
Gail Shibley, who runs the state's environmental public health office,
said her group would piggyback on that initiative and others.
"We need to keep human health concerns foremost," she said. "We are
living in a soup of these exposures, from before we're born to our last
-- Scott Learn
Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email: dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address: www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail: P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218 (NEW!)
Location: 629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219
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