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Environmental Health Group Expects Continued Action by U.S. States to Address Toxic Chemicals

Safer States, a network of diverse consumer organisations and coalitions with shared environmental and health concerns, recently issued a press release highlighting on-going legislative efforts at the U.S. state level to prohibit or regulate more strictly the sale and distribution of products containing hazardous chemicals. Specifically, the organisation states that at least 28 states plan to introduce bills this year to implement more than 100 separate policies to limit exposures to toxic chemicals, including bans on non-stick per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in food packaging and fire-fighting foam as well as prohibitions on toxic flame retardants.

Safer States indicates that state legislatures across the United States continue to step up efforts to protect public health from harmful chemicals in an attempt to “fill regulatory gaps left by the federal government.” According to the association, at least 13 states are considering legislation similar to that passed by Washington State last year restricting PFAS in food packaging and fire-fighting foam. Safer States asserts that these actions “come in the wake of serious failures by the EPA to protect drinking water or provide meaningful action that would warn communities about exposure or provide adequate funding for cleanup.”

A number of states are also expected to introduce measures to remove harmful flame retardants from furniture, children’s products and mattresses, which Safer States notes would mirror provisions recently adopted in California. Other jurisdictions are focusing on eliminating toxic flame retardants from electronics “a year after the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommended a similar ban and advised manufacturers find safer alternatives.”

In all, Safer States expects the following actions to occur in the next year.

  • At least 16 states (Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi,  New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia) are expected to consider policies to eliminate toxic flame retardants from residential furniture, children’s products and mattresses. A few of these states are also likely to seek to regulate these chemicals in electronics.
  • At least eight states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) will likely consider policies to eliminate or reduce PFAS chemicals in food packaging. PFAS are industrial chemicals used in non-stick coatings on food packaging like microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers that have been shown to cause cancer and organ damage as well as interfere with normal development and limit the efficacy of vaccines. According to Safer States, these chemicals migrate to food from food packaging and also pose an environmental hazard.
  • At least nine states (Alaska, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and Vermont) are likely to consider policies to ban the use of PFAS in fire-fighting foam. Washington State approved such a ban in 2018 and the Federal Aviation Administration has been directed to rewrite regulations to allow for PFAS-free foams at airports.
  • At least seven states (Alaska, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington) are likely to consider policies to limit levels of PFAS in drinking water and fund the clean-up of contaminated drinking water, including medical monitoring and testing.
  • At least 11 states (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont and Washington) are expected to consider policies to identify chemicals of concern and/or require makers of consumer products to disclose their use of these chemicals. Safer States notes that state disclosure laws help provide policymakers with an understanding of how people are exposed to chemicals from products, with particular recognition of greater exposures among low-income communities and communities of colour. These laws also inform consumers about their buying choices and help manufacturers identify chemicals to eliminate in their products. Disclosure bills under consideration will ostensibly address various product segments, including personal care products and fragrances, electronics, and products designed for pregnant women and/or children.

According to Safer States, since 2003 more than 35 states have passed 182 separate policies that establish state chemicals programmes and identify, limit or ban the use of harmful chemicals in products such as baby bottles, furniture, electronics, toys, cosmetics and cleaning products.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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