Toxics hearing highlights

This is a recap for the 2013 legislative session. To learn about current efforts on the Toxic Free Kids Act, SB 487, click here.
Angela Crowley KochIn a fast-moving 35-day legislative session, hearings come and go so quickly that it’s hard to stay informed. But thanks to OEC supporters, my job is to be there—and to make sure Oregon’s health and environmental voices are there—when it matters most.
It mattered a lot on February 4, when the Senate Health Care and Human Services Committee heard testimony on the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act (SB 1569).
Supporters of the bill outnumbered opposition more than two to one. My testimony was followed by four medical professionals, two legislators, a scientist, and a manufacturer all voicing support for the bill. And that’s not including the health, labor, and faith community leaders who submitted written testimony in support of it.

 Here’s one particular highlight:

Bill supporters expressed concern that parents, doctors, and researchers don’t have the information they need to understand or protect kids from exposure.
CongerSays Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend) about the proposed bill:

“In the end, it is really trying to protect against the things that parents can’t, because they don’t have any way of knowing…”

Jennifer GibbonsThen, Jennifer Gibbons of the Toy Industry Association suggested that rather than having companies disclose which products contain toxics, parents can simply choose products that are advertised as toxic-free:

“Consumers who are concerned about those things have choice when they go to the store to purchase products.”

Coincidentally, the Washington Toxics Coalition released a report on toxics in children’s products just two days after the hearing. Washington is one of the few states that requires manufacturers to disclose chemicals of concern in children’s products.
The coalition found that, in a six-month period 78 manufacturers reported using 49 difference toxic chemicals in more than 4,600 children’s products. 
Jennifer Gibbons probably isn’t suggesting that concerned parents navigate around these many thousands of products. If she was, she would be telling consumers not to buy from Toy Industry Association members like Mattel, Hasbro, and Just Play—all of whom report to Washington the presence of chemicals of concern in their products.
It’s also hard to imagine that, by suggesting concerned parents seek out and “choose” safe products, Jennifer is taking into account the testimony of Community Health Nurse Sheri Malstrom:

Sheri Malstrom“The nurses I work with in Multnomah County provide care to some of the most vulnerable residents. We take care of pregnant women, women who have just had babies, their children, and their infants. Frequently the people I see have nowhere else to turn and they are struggling to make ends meet, especially in this difficult economy. They are likely to be in poor health and likely to have children at risk for poor developmental outcomes, and less likely to know about the warnings about hazardous chemicals in children’s products and toys.”


As noted in a front-page story in the Oregonian, out-of-state chemical and toy industry lobbyists are making “intense” efforts to undermine the bill in Oregon, and not just while they are in the public eye.
As bill sponsor Senator Chris Edwards said to his colleagues on the Senate Health Care Committee:

Chris Edwards“I know that many of you have been visited by opponents and proponents of the bill, and I know that for some it is not an easy decision; for some of us it is a little bit easier decision because we live with the effects of neurological disorders in our daily lives, and it is something we take very seriously.”

You can get the audio for the entire committee session. But if you just want to get a little taste of what the testimony is like, we have assembled some highlights for you below.

Dr. John Pearson, retired pediatrician (IN SUPPORT): 
“It greatly disturbs me that many chemicals known to be carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting are found in products children use every day.”
Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend) (IN SUPPORT): 
“Children could be exposed multiple times because they have a teething ring, a pacifier, a sippy cup—all these various small level exposures could actually add up to be something that could be harmful for kids. And, in the end, it is really about trying to protect against the things that parents can’t because they don’t have any way of knowing.”
Carol Kraege, manager, Department of Ecololgy, Washington:
“I do have this little tiny baby shoe, it’s a little flip-flop. We did some testing of our own and found that this brown part at the top is almost 40% phthalates. And when we talked to the company that manufactures that little shoe, they were in the process of changing out how they manufacture that little shoe.”
Sandy Giffin, Poison Control Center Director, OHSU (IN SUPPORT):
“Children learn about the environment through their senses, which means accidental exposure to toxic substances. So just as you saw the flip-flop that was presented, often times it is that mom who found her child chewing on that who’s going to call the poison center, and our challenge is what to do about that.”
Jennifer Gibbons, Toy Industry Association (OPPOSED):  
“I think it’s also important for the committee to note that there is consumer choice in the marketplace. There are other companies that avoid certain materials, that’s all advertised to consumers. Consumers who are concerned about those things have choice when they go to the store to purchase products.”
Sheri Malstrom, Community Health Nurse (IN SUPPORT):
“The nurses I work with in Multnomah County provide care to some of the most vulnerable residents. We take care of pregnant women, women who have just had babies, their children, and their infants. Frequently the people I see have nowhere else to turn and they are struggling to make ends meet, especially in this difficult economy. They are likely to be in poor health and likely to have children at risk for poor developmental outcomes, and less likely to know about the warnings about hazardous chemicals in children’s products and toys.”
Dr. Joel Nigg, OHSU pediatrics, psychiatry (IN SUPPORT):
“Part of what’s been disturbing to me and many of my colleagues is the longer we study many of these chemicals, the worse the news gets. It’s been very rare to start out showing some harm and then realize later it was a mistake. It often goes the other direction. From a scientist’s point of view, the problem is that we’re always playing catch-up. We’re always studying the last chemical, and the next one is coming down the pike without knowledge of how much exposure there is or how widespread their use is. One of the big challenges that we have is that we can’t track the exposure because it’s not disclosed. We don’t know what are being used or how often they are being used, so it is hard to study the effects. And I see this as a big limitation. I see this in the literature, articles over and over will say we don’t know how much use there actually is or how much exposure because there’s no disclosure of the use in products. I would see it as a very prudent and minimal step to begin tracking what we don’t know enough about.”
Helen Anderson, RN, CLE Milkies (IN SUPPORT):
“I am a business owner, a registered nurse, and a mother, and I fully support SB 1569. My company Milkies, started in 2007, is a global company based in McMinnville, Oregon, and we manufacture products for moms that are nursing their babies. Milkies products are sold throughout Oregon, nationwide, and exported to 35 countries. Our materials are FDA-approved. However, many countries require a higher safety standard. For example, in order to export to Europe, Argentina, and Japan, we needed to provide our distributors the independent, third-party lab results (they were $800) showing our product did not contain BPA or toxic chemicals. The FDA safety standards are simply not high enough.”
Tim Shestek, American Chemistry Council (OPPOSED): “We believe the bill is based on a false presumption that the mere presence of an identified chemical in a product automatically equates that that product is harmful. I think secondly, on a general policy level, my industry and a number of other industries certainly understand that there is a lack of confidence, if you will, by a number of folks in terms of the safety of chemicals in consumer products. Questions have been raised about why the federal system has not been updated since 1976. We certainly agree with that.”
Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham) in response to Shestek: “It’s very hard for me to think that the existing Congress is going to be able to move anything significant. That’s why I really feel strongly that states have to come forward.”
Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward (D-Portland) in response to Shestek: “We do have to start to put some pressure, which is often how things happen nationally.”
Betsy Earls, Associated Oregon Industries (OPPOSED): “To assign a similar law in a number of different states will certainly make an impact on Congress, but I would ask you to keep in mind that it doesn’t come without a burden for some business that will be helping basically to push that point through the law.”
James Curry, Northwest Food Processors Association (OPPOSED): “Really our big concern is the precedent-setting nature. There is nothing to stop future legislatures from expanding to food packaging.”
Senator Chris Edwards (D-North Eugene) (IN SUPPORT): “I know that many of you have visited with opponents and proponents of the bill. I know that for some it is not an easy decision, for some of us it’s a little bit easier decision because we live with the effects of neurological disorders in our daily lives. And it’s something we take very seriously.”
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