Breaking Down Success: how state policies need to look at toxic chemicals to keep us safe

August 11, 2020

Drake Skaggs

We’re back with our series of blogs highlighting major toxic chemical policy movement this year! Today, we’ll be looking at how several states tackled entire classes of chemicals to reduce exposures. If you missed our introductory blog, you can click here to read it.

Addressing Classes of Chemicals to Reduce Exposures

In 2020 many states moved to address and regulate chemicals by class, rather than one at a time. Previous regulations that ban individual chemicals can be dodged by the chemical industry, as they  move a molecule or two to create “new” chemicals with similar toxicities but not subject to regulation. 

In Maryland, the legislature adopted a ban on toxic flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses, and furniture mirroring policy adopted in California in 2019 helping to  move the national marketplace away from these dangerous substances. A similar effort in Alaska, mirroring a successful policy in Anchorage, was gaining momentum before Covid-19 slowed the legislative process down.

With lead support from firefighters, New York state adopted a ban on “forever” chemicals known as PFAS in firefighting foam, joining Colorado, New Hampshire, and Washington in protecting drinking water sources, workers and preventing costly cleanups. Washington state made their policy stronger preventing unnecessary uses making their ban the strongest in the country. Bans on PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam are still being considered in California and Vermont. In California, the policy is headed to the state House after being adopted by the Senate on June 26th. The Vermont policy which also includes a ban on all PFAS in food packaging and carpets in addition to firefighting foam was unanimously adopted by the Senate and is continuing to move forward. Also banning PFAS but in a different category was New York state which just last week adopted a ban on PFAS in food packaging which is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Two leadership states also took big steps to restrict exposures to classes of chemicals under new state authority. California took steps to begin restricting PFAS chemicals in carpets and carpet treatment. Washington’s Department of Ecology is implementing a sweeping 2019 law. Most recently, they submitted a report detailing priority products classes of chemicals to restrict because of concerns about human health and the environment. These including toxic flame retardants in electronics; PFAS in carpets, aftermarket carpet and upholstery treatment; PCBs in printing inks; phenols (think Bisphenol A) in food cans, thermal paper, and detergent; and phthalates in fragrances and flooring. Restrictions are expected by June 1, 2023.

 Great work, everyone! Tune in next week where we will highlight state movement towards requiring companies to tell communities what is in their products, as well as more movement away from the most toxic chemicals.