Accurate labels, or cover-up?
Just as Oregon begins to find out how toxic chemicals occur in children’s products, a federal bill was proposed to block that information. The American Chemistry Council and other industry groups are behind the 2018 “Accurate Labels Act” ( H.R. 6022/S. 3019). Oregon’s own Representative Schrader sponsored the bill.
Though the bill did not come to a vote in 2018, industry groups continue to rally support for the concept. We haven’t seen the end of this effort to block public information.
The “Accurate Labels Act” proposed to re-write the 1967 “Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.” Instead of giving consumers information they need to make smart choices, the law would be re-written to block public information about chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive harm, developmental harm and other health effects. If the law were to pass, it could block current state laws that inform people about cleaning supply ingredients, products that contain mercury, toxic flame retardants in furniture—and toxic chemicals in children’s products.
Bill details: blocks to Oregon’s public health program
Oregon’s Toxic Free Kids program tracks high priority chemicals of concern in children’s products. As the Oregon Health Authority describes it, the law is designed to help public health experts improve understanding of how children are exposed to chemicals that are linked to life-long health effects. Ultimately, we want to reduce exposures in order to improve public health. Hiding these chemicals interferes with the intent of the law.
Cover-up of carcinogens
The federal law would hide substances linked to cancer, unless using the products increases cancer risk to one in 100,000. Typically, public health experts strive to reduce cancer risk below one in a million. The law could block public records of 21 chemicals linked to cancer in more than 2,000 reports on children’s products sold in Oregon.
Hidden from Oregon: formaldehyde in costumes, benzene in craft supplies, arsenic in dolls and clothing
Cover-up of contaminants
The federal law would hide toxic chemicals in products if they do not have a function–that is, contaminants or by-products of processes. This would block more than 1,800 reports of arsenic, formaldehyde, toluene and other toxics in children’s products.
Hidden from Oregon: Formaldehyde in Pokemon toys; toluene in pillows and blankets; toxics in plates, cups and bowls.
Cover-up of low doses
The federal law would hide toxics that occur in concentrations of less than 1000 parts per million (imagine 4/5ths of a cup of ink in a 55 gallon barrel). We know that some toxics—including heavy metals, endocrine disruptors and bio-accumulative chemicals—can have effects on developing bodies and brains at very low doses. This law would block a total of 3,915 reports on toxics in children’s products–including more than 2,000 that fall in the range just below 1000 parts per million.
Keeping “trade secrets” — and everything else
Even after the restrictions mentioned, Oregon would still have reports on hundreds of toxics in kids products. But a few other provisions in the federal bill could block these reports, too. “Naturally occurring ingredients” would be hidden–even if they are toxic. And companies can keep ingredients from public disclosure if they insist that the ingredients are trade secrets.
Ignoring the health science
The proposed bill has the same flaw that has allowed tens of thousands of chemicals into our lives without health and safety testing: it assumes that chemicals are safe until proven otherwise. The burden would fall to state authorities to prove that the chemicals in the products are causing a health risk. And then, states could face legal challenges from a multi-billion-dollar industry. Unless they can meet this high bar, states would be blocked from revealing the presence of carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, heavy metals and more.
Even without an active bill, you can be sure that lobbyists are discussing these issues with our lawmakers. You can, too. Let your elected officials know that you value open information, public health as a high priority, and chemical policy that reflects the needs of researchers, medical professionals and environmental agencies.