According to Safer States, Connecticut is one of 26 states across the country to consider policies addressing concerns over toxic chemicals in 2013. These states will be tackling concerns such as bans on toxic flame retardants and identifying harmful chemicals in consumer products.
According to a Jan. 24 statement, an analysis done by Safer States, a national coalition of state-based environmental health organizations, revealed that state legislatures in Connecticut will join Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York, along with at least 10 other states, to consider policies phasing out the use of toxic flame retardants in consumer products, like children’s products and residential furniture.
Researchers from University of California Berkeley and Duke University found that 85 percent of the 102 couches in a study published last November in the journal Environmental Science & Technology contained at least one flame retardant chemical. Half of the couches contained chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), a cancer-causing flame retardant that was removed from children’s sleepwear 35 years ago.
Another seventeen percent of tested furniture contained the chemical pentaBDE (PBDE), which is banned worldwide. (A second study, also published in the November journal, additionally found PBDEs in the dust of 75 percent of homes tested.)
One of the samples came from Connecticut resident Beka Apostolidis, RN, MS. “The evidence keeps adding up to the already significant amount of peer-reviewed research that links exposure to toxic chemicals with cancers, diabetes, learning disabilities and reproductive disorders.”said Apostolidis, in a Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut (CSHC) press release. “As a nurse, educator and cancer survivor, I believe we have an obligation to take precautionary measures and reduce exposure to toxic chemicals-particularly for children.”
Chemical flame retardants made the news again on Tuesday in a report, Fanning the Flames, by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. In it, he interviewed Dr. Andrew McGuire, founder of The Trauma Foundation, devoted to injury prevention.
“The way retardants are put into foam, they are not effective,” McGuire said. “Why? Because foam doesn’t ignite from a match or a flame or a cigarette. The fabric ignites first.”
He noted the flame and the heat of the fabric burning overwhelms the flame retardants so that they aren’t effective. Additionally, he said, “They cause toxic problems that could last generations.”
TDCPP is used to treat Polyurethane foam, which is also found in numerous baby products, including car seats and nursing pillows, as well as changing and bassinet pads. At a state Capitol press conference on Jan. 17, State Sen. Terry Gerratana (D-New Britain), and State Rep. Diana Urban (D-North Stonington), announced they would soon propose a bill to ban baby products that contain TDCPP from being sold in Connecticut.
“We are talking about what I consider to be a very basic right and that is that parents have the expectation that the products that they buy in the marketplace are going to be safe,” Gerratana said.
“It’s difficult to comprehend that our government does not do more to protect the health of our children and families,” said Michelle Noehren, of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.
She said that while a mother may breastfeed to enhance her baby’s immune system, with the use of certain breastfeeding pillows, she might be unknowingly exposing her child to hazardous toxins that were identified in the study.
“As busy, working moms, how are we supposed to research every single product that we give our children?” Noehren asked. “The reality is that moms believe that every product we give our children is safe. We rely on the government to keep us safe and somewhere along the line, there has been a real failure because toxic chemicals don’t belong in our children’s products.”
“The minute they ban one, they add a molecule and incorporate another one,” Urban said. “We are one step behind the chemical industry.”
She added that November’s study makes the dangers of fire retardants very clear, calling them, “mutagenic, carcinogenic and hormone disruptors…I look forward to working with the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut members to keep Connecticut kids safe and healthy.”
The Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut is made up of over 50 organizations representing health professionals, businesses, environmentalists, occupational safety advocates and individuals whose health has been impacted by toxic chemicals.
According to a Jan. 19 statement, the legislature will convene with health advocates next month, urging a state ban on TDCPP flame retardants.
Anne Hulick, RN, MS, JD, coordinator of CSHC, notes that Connecticut has been a leader in addressing toxic concerns. The state, led by CSHC, was the first to ban BPA in baby bottles, recyclable bottles and infant formula containers. “That was very precedent setting. We were really proud of that initiative,” she said in an interview on Monday.
The organization also led the fight for a ban of the hormone disrupter, bisphenol-A (BPA) BPA in thermal receipt paper that customers receive at retail stores, banks and gas stations. In June 2011, Connecticut became the first state in the country to ban do so. “This year, we’re excited to work on a law requiring labeling on any packaging containing BPA,” said Hulick.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH-HHS), BPA can leach into food from canned foods and plastic products, such as food storage containers, water bottles, baby bottles and polycarbonate tableware. Infants and children are estimated to have the highest daily intakes of BPA.
Extensive animal studies have shown the effect of BPA on reproduction and child development. BPA mimics the hormone estrogen in the body and is linked to effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children, as well as obesity, early-onset puberty and the development of certain cancers.
Sen. Beth Bye (D-5th District), with co-sponsor Rep. Gary A. Holder-Winfield (D-New Haven), introduced SB-16, to require the labeling of food and drink products that are packaged in materials containing BPA. The Environmental Committee voted to draft the bill on Jan. 22. to provide information to consumers that will allow them to avoid the purchase and use of products that contain these harmful toxins.
At least 14 other states, including Massachusetts, Maine and New York are considering policies to restrict or label the use of BPA in infant formula cans, food packaging (especially for babies) and receipt paper.
Connecticut will also join at least 13 other states, including Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont in considering bills to identify chemicals affecting children’s health and require consumer product manufacturers to disclose their use of these chemicals. Many of these bills suggest safer alternatives.
“We want to establish a process where manufacturers are required to report two to three of their most toxic chemicals,” said Hulick. “Our aim is to develop a plan whereby manufacturers are going to stick to a safer alternative. The Department of Public Health will decide if that alternative is going to be adequate.” She said the Coalition would like to see a sustainable system set up, where chemicals are not just banned one at a time.
“We’re not doing a good enough job at requiring chemicals to be safe. We’re basically doing a big toxicology test on children and fetuses, and we don’t know the consequences of that,” Hulick, a nurse, said. “We can’t shock our way out the problem. We have to pass more health-protective laws.”
She added, “[CSHC’s] number one priority right now is banning flame retardant chemicals because they are so ubiquitous, but also we’re really focusing on trying to continue Connecticut’s leadership in the field.”