Staying power for healthy kids

It isn’t glamorous, and sometimes it is downright tedious–but participating in rulemaking for Oregon’s Toxic Free Kids Act is also one of the more rewarding parts of my job. Why? Because at every meeting, I get to stand up for children’s health as a top priority in Oregon.

Here’s how it works:

Oregon’s Toxic Free Kids Act, when it passed in 2015, made the Oregon Health Authority responsible for a very unique program. The agency will manage one of very few laws in the United States that requires manufacturers to report when they use toxic chemicals in their children’s products, and then to phase out those toxics and ensure that any replacement chemicals are safer. The law begins with a rulemaking process, setting up all the details of who,when and how it all happens.

The rulemaking is a public process—that is, the agency enlists a group of advisors to share expertise in drafting the rules, and then takes public comment from anyone who might want to influence those rules. The trouble is, few members of the public have the time or resources to participate.

The rulemaking process is closely followed by those who do have resources: industry representatives who are paid to represent trade associations and large corporations. That’s why Oregon Environmental Council is both unique and critically important. Our members and donors give each year so that I have the time and resources to speak up and represent environmental health. They help provide the resources we need to partner with leading businesses as well; businesses that often provide valuable insight and perspective on safer products and manufacturing.

It’s rewarding to be able to represent the interests of Oregon parents and businesses in those long hours of rulemaking meetings. When industry spoke, I spoke, too. And you can be sure I was thinking about the thousands of generous Oregonians who donate precisely because they share the values I was voicing.

By the time the Toxic Free Kids Act passed in 2015, the law had amassed support from more than 70 organizations, from small businesses to medical researchers to faith-based and community groups. I knew that the law itself had widespread support. So when the Oregon Health Authority issued draft rules in 2016, I made sure that all of those supporters knew about them, and had a chance to speak for themselves.

And the Oregon Health Authority listened. We were pleased to see that the final rules, which went into place on December 1, do not allow dangerous loopholes for industry. Now, industries can begin the process of reporting the presence of toxics in their products. The first reports are due in January 2018.

It’s a very important first step that will have ripple effects across the nation. Not only will these businesses report to Oregon, but Oregon will also be poised to share this information with the nation. We will pool our findings with those from other states in a clearinghouse of information that will vastly improve our nation’s understanding of how, when and where toxic chemicals occur in products.

But it is far from the last step. The final part of rulemaking, which will happen in the year to come, will bring a tough battle between the chemical industry and trade associations, and those speaking on behalf of the health of Oregon’s kids. Oregon Health Authority will be setting rules for how industry must prove that substitute chemicals are safer than the toxics they will replace.

So you can be sure industry will invest a lot of time and money to influence the process. They’ll send their lawyers and lobbyists. With support from our members, OEC will be there, too. We will ensure that our state agencies have information and expertise from the best scientists to inform their decisions. And when it’s time for public comment, we will make sure that everyone who supports healthy children in Oregon has an opportunity to speak up as well.

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