Chemical safety bill has diverse support

Posted: January 05, 2012

Parents often start a new year resolved to take steps to improve their families' well-being: more fruits and vegetables and less junk food, more exercise and less TV. But there is a danger in our homes that parents can do little to address: Toxic chemicals in toys, electronics, cleaning supplies, cookware, and other everyday products that can find their way into small mouths and bodies.

Doctors and scientists increasingly point to toxic chemicals in consumer products as contributing to serious diseases and disabilities, especially when developing fetuses, infants, and young children are exposed to them. There's mounting evidence that such chemicals are playing a role in higher rates of learning and developmental disabilities, certain cancers, birth defects, and asthma.

The good news is that for the first time in a generation, Congress is poised to pass a new law regulating harmful chemicals. The Safe Chemicals Act would require that chemicals be tested for negative health effects before they can be used in products, and that manufacturers replace those likely to cause cancer and interfere with normal brain and cell development with safer alternatives. The bill seeks to protect pregnant women and children in particular.

Sounds like common sense, right? Well, we think so. As mothers of young children as well as professionals who study this issue, we understand the science of these toxic chemicals as well as the challenge of protecting our families from exposure to them.

Our fellow Pennsylvanians share these concerns. A recent statewide poll found that a majority of residents, across demographic and party lines, supported stricter regulation of toxic chemicals. Last summer, Sen. Bob Casey's office received nearly 400 phone calls in one week from concerned residents urging him to support the Safe Chemicals Act.

Over the last five years, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association, the National Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association have all issued major policy statements on the risks of toxic chemicals and called on Congress to take action.

Add both employers and employees to the chorus. Howard Williams, vice president of Construction Specialties, a manufacturing company with 400 employees in central Pennsylvania, told Congress that his company is incurring ever greater costs to determine the composition and toxicity or raw materials because chemical makers won't provide the information. Officials of the United Steelworkers, which represents many who use industrial chemicals on the job or work in the chemical industry, have also spoken out on the issue.

Support for the Safe Chemicals Act has crossed partisan lines in Washington, too, where the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to vote on the bill this month.

With the start of a new year, parents can make sure kids have healthy lunches and wash their hands. But we can't protect them from toxic chemicals. We need Congress to take this step toward a healthier future for our children.

Maureen Swanson is director of the Healthy Children Project at the Pittsburgh-based Learning Disabilities Association of America. Rebecca Roberts is an associate professor of biology and the coordinator of biochemistry and molecular biology at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa.

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