If you ever find yourself looking for a great example of how corporate concerns (read: profits) can come to trump the health and safety concerns of consumers, I’d suggest stopping by a legislative hearing on toxic chemicals.
The Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture, of which I am Senate Vice Chair, held a hearing today on several bills, including S397, An Act for a Competitive Economy through Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals (typically referred to as the “Safer Alternatives” bill). This bill, which was filed by Senator Tolman and Representative Kaufman, will reduce exposure to toxic chemicals that are linked to many serious health problems by setting up new approaches to identify the worst chemicals in widespread use and identifying and encouraging safe alternatives to those chemical ingredients.
As we heard at today’s hearing, there is strong evidence that exposure to toxic chemicals contribute significantly to the rise in many chronic diseases – cancers, childhood leukemia, learning disabilities, reproductive disorders, and many other chronic health problems. Recent reports also suggest a connection between toxics in our environment and the rise of autism rates.
And yet we know that it is often possible to manufacture products in ways that are safer and that reduce exposure to these toxic, cancer-causing chemicals.
Under this bill, if an economically feasible safer alternative to the toxic chemical is found for a particular use, and the chemical presents a high hazard to Massachusetts residents and workers, a state-run program will assist businesses, technically and at times financially, in making a transition to the safer alternative.
Unfortunately, the bill is still opposed by large corporations and their lobbying associations, whose concerns for profits trumps any concerns they may have about the health and safety of Massachusetts consumers, particularly children.
The Retailers Association of Massachusetts noted in their testimony before the committee today that the “preservation and protection of the public health is and always has been a priority for [their membership].” The Toy Industry of American told us that “protecting the safety of our young consumers is our top priority.”
Somehow I find it difficult to take these statements at face value, given how strongly they have opposed measures to promote safer alternatives to toxic chemicals over the years. Indeed, it is the opposition from groups like these that has stalled the Safer Alternatives bill in the legislature for several sessions, despite strong support from many members.
Not every business leader opposes the bill, however. I listened with interest to the testimony of Ted Saunders, the owner of the Saunders Hotel Group and a member of the Progressive Business Leaders Network, who talked about the steps he had taken, in his own businesses, to reduce the use of toxic chemicals, resulting in fewer health problems for his employees and consumers. Mr. Saunders also noted that these decisions ultimately improved his company’s bottom line, by attracting more hotel customers.
The fact is, it’s possible to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals in a way that also supports economic growth – a win-win situation for everyone.
But most importantly, reducing everyone’s exposure to toxic chemicals is the right thing to do, and we should do it as soon as possible. By passing this bill, we can improve the quality and length of life for millions of Massachusetts residents.
It’s time to put consumer interests over corporate interests, and pass the Safer Alternatives bill this session.