Failure to pass toxic-chemical bill put profits over children's safety
A bill that would have protected children from a pair of toxic chemicals was upended by opponents who put profits first, writes state Sen. Sharon Nelson, chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee.
Special to The Times
FOR the last two days of the most recent legislative session, a bill that would have protected Washington's children from a pair of toxic chemicals sat and waited for a final vote in the state Senate.
The House had approved the Toxics-Free Kids Act, 60-34. The Senate Environment Committee had recommended it for final approval. But as negotiations on our final budget agreement wound on, the Toxics-Free Kids Act languished. It was never taken up, and the chemicals it would have banned will linger in nurseries and playrooms across our state.
Before I take up how we lost this opportunity to do the right thing, let me explain the problem: toxic flame retardants.
In the 1970s, health concerns about a flame-retardant chemical called "TRIS" prompted manufacturers to remove it from children's pajamas. Even though this and a similar chemical, TCEP, have been linked to increased cancer risk and other problems, today baby-product makers are loading them into the foam of strollers, car seats and other products.
A recent study found these toxins in 17 of 20 children's products tested, including nursing pillows and changing pads purchased in Washington. The toxins escape, mix with household dust and are ingested by our youngest children as they explore their worlds. As a result, our babies and our children are exposed to cancer-causing agents and neurotoxins. This is not the world we want for them.
The legislation I co-sponsored with Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson was simple: We would ban the use of these toxins in children's products sold in Washington, and give manufacturers an opportunity to find safer alternatives.
The state has a long record in this regard. We banned another flame retardant in 2007, set tough standards for lead in toys in 2008, and acted to keep toxins out of baby bottles two years ago.
The Toxics-Free Kids Act was a logical, practical and simple step forward in that fight. It was supported by the state's associations of firefighters, fire chiefs, pediatricians and nurses. The reason firefighters and health-care professionals support the bill is because they know we can have fire-safe products without subjecting kids to harmful chemicals.
So why did the bill fail at the last minute, when all that remained was a simple yes-or-no vote?
I'll be frank: Our opposition puts profits ahead of protecting kids from cancer. It's not right, and their influence on our lawmaking is unwarranted. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, the Washington Retail Association, Wal-Mart, the Association of Washington Business and Citizens for Fire Safety — a well-funded lobbying group for the toxic flame retardant manufacturers — descended on the state Capitol to scare legislators into a false choice: protecting kids from fire versus protecting kids from harmful chemicals.
The truth is that there are alternative materials, methods and chemicals that ensure fire safety, but taking two cancer-causing flame retardants out of children's products would mean smaller profits for the companies that make them.
Kids spend their time learning and playing, not forming political action committees. Our young parents don't count as an industry. We'll never be able to match the financial might of the chemical industry and its allies.
But no matter how much money the proponents of toxins may have, or the number of false arguments they can throw in our path, Washingtonians have proved time again that their priority is the next generation.
As we move forward, we must continue to talk about the facts: to let our families, friends and neighbors know about the toxins that could be in a baby's changing pad, nursing pillow or stroller, and to demand that our state take action to protect our littlest ones from harmful chemicals.
We can and we will do better for Washington kids.Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, is the chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee.