As Mark Schapiro details in his book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, the EU is light-years ahead of the US in terms of regulating product chemical safety. The EU’s precautionary approach prevents harmful chemicals from being used in products before death and sickness. The US allows harmful chemicals to be used in products even after death and sickness while evidence is collected and proof is established—a process which often requires decades.
Apparently, the toxin-filled citizens of the US are taking notice and taking action. Take, for example, Hannah Pingree. Hannah is the majority leader of Maine’s House of Representatives. Recently, as an article on Reuter’s points out, Hannah “was so alarmed when she learned she had dangerously high levels of mercury, arsenic and other toxic chemicals in her body that she took her case to the Maine state legislature and challenged chemical makers.”
From the article:
As the majority leader of Maine’s House of Representatives, she sponsored legislation that gave the state the authority to broadly identify and investigate “chemicals of high concern” in consumer products, particularly those that may reach children.
The bill, signed into law in April, makes Maine the first U.S. state with such authority and could serve as a model for other U.S. states trying to fill a regulatory void left by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Just five chemicals out of 82,000 known to be hazardous to human health, for instance, have been banned by the EPA since 1976, the most recent being asbestos in 1989.
Maine’s law coincides with mounting concerns in the United States over chemicals found in everyday products, from cars to clothes, and follows similar European Union laws.
The EU in 1999 banned phthalates — chemicals used to make plastic more flexible — and last year implemented a law known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) that requires businesses to prove substances in everyday products are safe and submit data about them.
Maine’s bill echoes the EU approach. It requires makers of toxic chemicals to notify state authorities of the quantity and purpose of the chemicals and work to develop safer alternatives.
Experts are watching to see if Maine’s law will lead to tougher measures nationwide, while an organization representing chemical manufacturers expressed concern that layers of new state-by-state regulations could hurt the industry.
Under the law, Maine will test chemicals and issue a “certificate of non-compliance” to manufacturers stating their chemicals do not meet state laws. The state can notify retailers the product contains toxic chemicals and legislation can be approved to ban its sale.
Kudos to Hannah Pingree and Maine for getting taking the lead in US product safety. If you’re interested in seeing a similar law passed in your state, call your state representative and let him or her know about Maine’s new law—reference this article in your conversation.
Let us know the response in the comments below.