Washington States’ legislature has passed the strongest chemical law in the Nation

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Washington’s state legislature has passed a bill that would create a regulatory system to identify and impose restrictions or prohibitions on, certain chemicals of concern found in consumer products The bills’supporters say that if it becomes law, it will be the “nation’s strongest policy for regulating toxic chemicals in consumer products”.

The Pollution Prevention for Our Future Act (SB 5135)  would call for the state’s Department of Ecology (DOE) to take regulatory actions on consumer products containing chemicals of high concern. It identifies as priorities substances such as PFASs compounds, phthalates, flame retardants, phenolic compounds, and PCBs.

The introduction of the bill came after a task force responsible for determining approaches for protecting the area’s endangered orca whale population identified certain toxic contaminants as a priority threat last year.

The state Senate passed the bill last month by a narrow margin. An amended version passed the House last week on a 60-37 vote, and the Senate concurred with the updated legislation on  April 22 by a 2argin.

The measure now heads to Governor Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it into law.

The Devil is in the Details

The measure directs the ecology department to “determine regulatory actions to increase transparency and to reduce the use of priority chemicals in priority consumer products.”

This could include notification requirements, such as providing lists of products containing priority chemicals, product ingredient disclosure or information regarding exposure and chemical hazard.

The measure directs the ecology department to ‘determine regulatory actions to increase transparency and to reduce the use of priority chemicals in priority consumer products’

But the legislation also authorizes the department to restrict or prohibit priority substances when it determines that a safer alternative is “feasible and available”, and that such an elimination will “reduce a significant source or use” of a chemical, or if doing so is necessary to protect the health of sensitive populations or species.

The legislation outlines the criteria for identifying priority substances, which include whether they are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) or listed on the state’s Chemicals of Concern to Children (CHCC) list.

Substances may also be designated if they are of concern to sensitive populations and species, taking into consideration such factors as their environmental and toxicological endpoints, potential exposures, and potential to degrade, form reaction products or metabolize into other concerning substances.

Priority products are those identified as “a significant source or use” of priority substances. Exempted from the measure are food and beverages, motor vehicles, drugs, products regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or Department of Defense (DOD) and plastic shipping pallets manufactured before 2012.

The ecology department is also blocked from restricting or requiring disclosure for inaccessible electronic components of electronic products.

A coalition of NGOs issued a joint statement celebrating the bill’s passage, calling its passage a “huge win.

“This huge win keeps Washington state at the forefront of the nation, stopping the use of harmful chemicals in products that pollute our homes, bodies, and waters,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future.

‘This huge win keeps Washington state at the forefront of the nation,’ said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future

The act, said Clean Production Action’s Cheri Peele, will “help move the market toward safer chemicals in products, which reduces business liability.”

Liz Hitchcock, acting director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, added: “Other states and the federal government should follow their lead.”

But the measure has faced strong opposition from industry groups, which have argued that the state should use its existing authorities rather than adopt a new programme.

“Despite some improvements to the bill before it was passed by the legislature, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) remains concerned with the bill’s underlying presumption that the presence of any identified high priority chemical in a consumer product means that the product is potentially harmful,” a spokesperson for the trade group told Chemical Watch.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) ‘remains concerned with the bill’s underlying presumption that the presence of any identified high priority chemical in a consumer product means that the product is potentially harmful’

The ACC added it was concerned that the legislation gives the DOE authority to determine if a chemical is “functionally necessary” and if an alternative is “feasible and available”.

“Just because an alternative is available and could be used does not mean that it is in the best interest of the consumer to use the alternative,” it said. “Giving the department the right to determine the necessity of a chemical product opens the door to decisions not being based on the best available science,” it added.

The legislation calls for the DOE to identify its first priority products by  June 1, 2020. Regulatory actions to address these would need to be determined two years down the road, with rules in place to implement the regulatory actions by midway through 2023.

This process is set to repeat on a five-year cycle from 2024.

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