By Rachelle Ain

Article submission by: Rachelle Ain


For decades, concerned citizens and organizations have been demanding cleaner and healthier environments through more rigorous chemical laws and industry accountability. In the past few years, a multi-pronged approach has organically emerged through advocacy, activism, and the free market to tackle toxins in our lives.

The push for better legislation of toxins is happening at both the state and national levels. This year alone, federal reform of the anemic 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has been moving at a fast pace. The Senate and the House have each put forward their own versions of TSCA reform bills.  Unfortunately, organizations and people who have been invested in toxic chemical reform view both bills to be nearly as ineffective as the original and are scrambling to get amendments in the final draft. The Senate reform bill, titled The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century, is of particular concern.  The worrisome bill contains provisions that would preempt state regulation of chemicals concurrently being reviewed by the EPA. This federal overreach would set Massachusetts back from the progress it has made to protect its citizens from toxic chemicals.

While the federal government wrestles with TSCA reform, Massachusetts has been targeting toxic chemicals that are part of our daily lives.  In July, hearings were held for Senate Bill S.1132 and House Bill 2119, both of which seek to remove flame-retardant chemicals in children’s products, furniture, and other household items.  The Safe Cleaning Products Bill (H.2067) would require environmentally safe cleaning alternatives to be used in public buildings, hospitals, health care facilities, & day-care centers. Other Massachusetts bills are more comprehensive. The Act for Healthy Family and Businesses (H.3997) requires safer alternatives to toxic chemicals wherever feasible, and supports businesses to make the transition.

While political battles wage on over chemical regulation, market-driven forces are reinforcing the message that the public wants accountability and safer alternatives. A plethora of initiatives have sprung to provide tools to help consumers make more informed choices. Examples of these tools include EWG’s suite of product rating systems from sunscreens to cosmetics to personal care products, or Cradle-to-Cradle Product Institute, which certifies products in several business sectors.

The design and construction industry has developed its share of rating systems and disclosure tools. LEED, a long-time proponent of smart and efficient material use, has developed a much more rigorous stance on materials health.  The program’s latest iteration (LEED 4.0) for Materials & Resources credit demands disclosure and optimization of products used in the building.  Documentation for this credit may include a number of other material health programs that exist in the marketplace, such as Cradle-to-Cradle, Health Product Declaration, or ILFI’s Declare.

When designers and builders are empowered to choose safer alternatives, clients are empowered to vote with their money. Harmful toxins are still ubiquitous in our environment, but the call for safer chemicals is loud and clear. We need the combined efforts of advocacy, activism, and market forces and continue to push for chemical regulation and safer products.

For more information on Healthy Materials and Toxics, visit our Advocacy Page!


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