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My View: Shielding children from deadly chemicals should be priority for lawmakers

Ask an oncology nurse, a pediatrician, a breast cancer survivor, a parent or a child care professional: Should Oregon address toxins in everyday children’s products? The answer is, of course, yes.

Dozens of health, business and citizen advocacy groups around the state supported passage of the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act (House Bill 3162) in the 2013 Legislature. Thousands of Oregonians called legislators, wrote letters and signed petitions asking Oregon to require manufacturers to disclose carcinogens, heavy metals and other chemicals of high concern in clothing, bedding and toys made for children.

The Oregon House responded: It passed HB 3162 with a strong bipartisan vote.

But ask the Oregon Senate if toxins and children’s health is its responsibility. The Senate’s answer? Silence. It let HB 3162 die, rather than bring it to a vote.

It’s not the first or second or even third time that our state has failed to address toxic chemicals in children’s products. It’s not the first time Oregon lawmakers have sat on the sidelines rather than take action to protect children’s health.

In 2009, when the Oregon Legislature considered a Children’s Safe Products Act, the truth was clear: Federal laws are failing to protect consumers from toxic chemicals in everyday products. Carcinogens, hormone disruptors, reproductive toxicants and other chemicals are found in children’s bodies, with some minority groups bearing greater body burdens.

Because children are most vulnerable to lifelong harm from exposure, it makes sense to limit their exposures. Manufacturers are not required to reveal their use of these chemicals. We needed legislation in order to both understand and prevent exposures.

The 2009 bill did not even pass out of committee.

So, in 2010 and in 2012, Oregon considered a narrower bill addressing only the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA, which already had been banned from baby bottles, water bottles and formula containers in a number of states. The American Chemistry Council sent experts to Oregon to defend the multibillion-dollar chemical. In 2012, the bill passed the Senate, but the Oregon House did not bring it to the floor for a vote.

Multnomah County responded swiftly, voting unanimously to ban BPA from baby bottles and durable water bottles. County Chairman Jeff Cogen was quoted: “This would have been best had it been a statewide action, but when the state fails to lead, the local leaders have to step up and act.”

If all children are to have a fair chance at health without risks posed by toxic chemicals, we need to reform the federal law, which has not been updated in more than four decades. But we can’t stand by as a divided Congress fails us. States including Washington, Maine and California have all passed new laws to protect their citizens from these dangerous chemicals. Oregon leaders must act now.

We have a lot to lose from inaction. Even as we invest billions in improved health care and struggle to address rising rates of chronic disease, we turn a blind eye to the widespread use of chemicals in everyday children’s products that have been linked to the very same diseases.

Even as our state maintains a national reputation for expertise in green chemistry and finding ways to make products with fewer toxics, our legislators missed another chance to pass a law that would support these innovators.

Year after year, the coalition of Oregon voices gets stronger, calling on our state to take responsibility for the role toxic chemicals play in children’s health. Meanwhile, more and more scientific studies confirm that even small exposures to certain toxics early in life can contribute to lasting disease during a lifetime.

It’s time our legislators catch up to our businesses, health care professionals and parents, standing with them for the sake of children’s health.

Angela Crowley-Koch is the legislative director of Oregon Environmental Council in Portland.

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