Reform of federal product safety law must not lower state standards

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 21, 2013 

You might reasonably assume that the federal government regulates and tests most of the chemicals found in our children's toys, household products, and other consumer goods to make sure they are safe. They do not. In response, states like Washington stepped up with stronger chemical safety state laws to protect consumers and the environment from the impacts of toxic chemicals.

As Washington State attorney general, my job is to protect consumers and uphold state law. Right now, congress is considering a change to the federal laws around chemical safety that would restrict my ability to enforce our chemical safety laws and protect Washingtonians from toxic chemicals in consumer products. While I welcome federal reform that improves consumer safety nationwide, we must ensure it does not prevent our state from enforcing regulations that keep families and kids safe.

Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, called TSCA, in 1976 with the intention to be our nation's main law regulating chemicals used in everyday products. When passed into law, however, TSCA did not require safety review for the more than 60,000 chemicals in existence at the time. Since 1976, only a fraction of these chemicals have been tested for safety or undergone a comprehensive safety review. Only five of these toxic substances are restricted.

As a result, states stepped in with local laws that are tougher on product chemical regulation.

Recently, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate to reform TSCA. While this represents a crucial opportunity to fix a flawed policy, we must make sure it does not undo the good work done at the state level.

If the federal government were to adopt the current version of this bill, Washington state could lose our ability to enforce:

Our ban on certain flame retardants commonly found in children's clothing (polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs);

Our ban on the sale or distribution of sports bottles, or children's bottles, cups, or containers that contain bisphenol A (or BPA);

Our ban on the distribution or sale of children's products containing lead, cadmium and phthalates above certain concentrations;

Our requirement that manufacturers of children's products report the amount and concentration of various chemicals.

I joined eight other attorneys general from around the country and sent a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. We presented our shared concerns that the TSCA reform bill jeopardizes public health and safety by severely limiting states' long-standing power to protect the public from toxic chemicals.

I support the continued efforts to work across the aisle to ensure federal law protects Washington families and our precious natural resources. Any legislation reforming TSCA cannot sacrifice the progress we made in this Washington - specifically to protect children. As the father of two young children, I understand the stakes if we lose our ability as a state to protect our kids from harmful chemicals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bob Ferguson is the Washington State Attorney General.

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