The Need for Toxic Chemical Reform

Despite its pristine reputation, Vermont is not immune from the toxic hazards that threaten public health across this country and beyond. One only needs to look at the recent discovery of lead in VPR coffee mugs to realize that hidden toxic chemicals are all around us. Thousands of children still suffer the effects of lead each year in this state; autism and learning disabilities among children are becoming more common; and reproductive disorders and some forms of cancer are on the rise.

While it is not possible to point to a single cause as the trigger for all of these health maladies, our growing exposure to widely used toxic chemicals is contributing to the problem. From cleaners to shampoos to clothing to children’s toys, we use chemicals each day that could be harming our health.

There is an assumption among Americans that the products we buy must be safe if they are on store shelves, but unfortunately this is not the case. Products aren’t tested for safety before they are sold to consumers, and of the more than 80,000 synthetic chemicals used in commerce in the U.S., few have been adequately tested for their potential impacts on our health. Parents shouldn’t need to be detectives or have a PhD in toxicology to know that their children are safe from toxic chemicals.

This “wait and see” approach to chemical regulation dangerously gambles with the public’s health. Instead, we need a precautionary approach where health and the environment are paramount, and the safety of every chemical is ensured before it is used in consumer products.

Unfortunately, our national government is lagging behind other countries in this respect. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted in 1976 and is the only environmental statute yet to be updated – despite its widespread acceptance as a toothless and ineffective law. For example, the EPA wasn’t even able to regulate asbestos under the current law.

Vermont has a responsibility and opportunity to protect its children and families from unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals. We can pass laws to ban individual toxic chemicals from products sold in Vermont, but that can become like a game of whack-a-mole. Or, we can be a leader, and pass comprehensive chemical reform that better protects Vermonters from toxic threats, while bringing pressure on our leaders in Washington to act on federal reform.

We can set an example for the nation by identifying chemicals of high concern, requiring companies to disclose which consumer products contain those chemicals, and creating a process for phasing these chemicals out of products sold in Vermont.