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'Infants, toddlers should not be sucking on formaldehyde'

It’s hard to fight an invisible enemy, even when it’s right before your eyes. In my clinic each day, we talk about germs and routine childhood ailments. I tell worried parents that apart from good hand washing, immunizations and a healthy lifestyle, there is only so much we can do to prevent kids from getting sick from these things we cannot see.

But now there is more that we can and must do. Evidence has become clear that unlabeled toxic chemicals in our most innocent household items, including children’s toys and blankets, are threatening child health and development. A baby blanket can be made without hazards that affect baby’s growth, intelligence and reproductive system. We can’t make good choices in the marketplace without knowing what’s in products that enter our child’s mouth.

Health problems ranging from cancer to asthma to learning disabilities have been linked to toxic chemicals like heavy metals, formaldehyde and phthalates that are commonly found in everyday children’s products. Because manufacturers are currently not required to identify chemicals they are using, public health officials and parents alike are in the dark about what might be in that teething ring, baby blanket or bouncy seat. The Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act, HB 3162, will change that.

If passed, HB 3162 will create a science-based “High Priority Chemicals of Concern for Children’s Health” list. (Editor’s note: The Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act passed the House 39-21 Tuesday and now heads to the Senate).

Manufacturers of children’s products will have to notify Oregon health officials when their products contain these hazards. Chemicals posing a significant threat to child health will need to be replaced with safer alternatives over five years, giving manufacturers fair time to improve products for our children.

Many business owners support this commonsense, bipartisan initiative. Washington, Maine, Minnesota and California have already passed similar laws. Oregon’s children deserve the same safeguards. Short-term cost to the state is small and long-term benefit to our children is massive for both health care savings and normal child development. Infants and toddlers should not be sucking on formaldehyde, BPA and chemical plasticizers, and we parents should not be in the dark. We can only protect our children from hazards when we know to avoid them. We have the ability to take action now, and must.

We parents have enough trouble keeping our kids safe and healthy without having to worry about hidden dangers in a beloved stuffed toy or blanket. While we can’t prevent every ill that befalls our children, toxics in everyday products pose a needless and preventable public health risk. Even small amounts of chemicals can affect a child’s developing brain and body.

It’s also good for Oregon’s economy. Local producers of kids’ products make them without harmful chemicals, unlike scary sweatshops overseas. Never mind the billions spent each year to treat chronic diseases linked to chemical exposure. Disclosing and removing harmful chemicals in children’s products just makes sense.

Would you not want to know? The Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act will give Oregon agencies and parents information they need to keep our children safe from hidden hazards in everyday products. That makes sense to me as a doctor, as a business owner and father as well. Be sure to voice your support to your state representative and senator.

Dr. Richard Martin, D.O., MPH, is a pediatrician who lives in Hood River and practices there and in Portland.



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