Reporting Back from D.C.

The Time for Toxic Chemical Reform is Now: An Op-ed by VPIRG Field Organizer Taylor Johnson

 “I am tired of feeling like I have to have a PhD in toxicology in order to be a competent parent. I am tired of reminding school administrators, what is good for a tire is not good for a child.”

Last week I stood with concerned parents from all over the country as part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families “Stroller Brigade” and listened to actress Jennifer Beals (from The L-Word and Flashdance) make these proclamations. I already knew that out of the more than 80,000 chemicals used in the U.S., few have been adequately tested for their potential impacts on our health, but hearing this passionate speech in our nation’s capital really brought the message home.  Overall, proud and motivated are the best words to describe how I feel after representing Vermont on this trip to D.C.

I’m proud that we brought the fight for toxic chemical reform to the front doors of our federal decision makers. I’m proud of the fact that as a group of self-trained citizen lobbyists, we held over 75 meetings with U.S. Senators and Representatives. I’m proud that our message was delivered loud and clear: the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is badly broken, and is failing to protect our friends, families and communities from the dangers of toxic chemicals.

I want to thank Vermont’s Congressional delegation, as one by one the offices of Representative Welch and Senators Leahy and Sanders assured us that they will do all that they can to push for meaningful toxic chemical reform.

However, some of the statistics I heard and things I saw left me highly motivated – and reminded me why I do this work in the first place. I was motivated when I heard that the EPA couldn’t even regulate asbestos under the current federal toxic chemical law. I was motivated when I heard that TSCA, enacted in 1976, is the only environmental statue that has yet to be updated.

What surprised and motivated me even more was witnessing a pro-coal rally attended by over 1,000 Americans on the lawn of the Capitol Building. The protesters were holding signs that read “global warming is a myth” and “the EPA is after your jobs.” VPIRG’s Environmental Health Advocate turned to me and said “Taylor, America is a big country.” It was right then that it hit me: we are so privileged to live in Vermont, and this leaves us with two choices. We can either stay in the Vermont bubble, or we can choose to be a leader for the rest of the country. Rather than passing laws to ban individual toxic chemicals from products sold in Vermont, which can feel like a game of whack-a-mole, we can pass comprehensive chemical reform that spurs our leaders in Washington to act.

One of the best ways to push Congress to enact tougher regulations on toxic chemicals is for states like Vermont to pass their own laws aimed at achieving toxic chemical reform. While activists in other states are burdened with unresponsive leaders and debates on whether or not global warming is real, we have a huge opportunity and a big responsibility to do all we can to achieve real change on these important issues. As Jennifer Beals put it “there is nothing more important than protecting the health of our children and generations to come, and no one’s profit margin can justify harm brought to our children and future generations.”

Overall, it was a great trip to our nation’s capital. I left incredibly proud of our movement, our state, and the work that I do. But I also left extremely motivated to fix our toothless federal toxic chemical policy. America is a big place, and when it comes to toxic chemical reform, it’s time for Vermont to be a leader. If we delay, it means more people getting cancer and more children born with birth defects, among other harms caused by toxic chemicals. It’s time for us to better protect our families, and I hope you will join me in calling on our state legislators to pass chemical safety legislation in the Green Mountain State.


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