Connecticut House tackles toxins

The Connecticut General Assembly’s environment committee recently okayed two bills that would limit the use of two toxins found in common commercial products.

One bill would ban products containing the flame retardant Tris from being marketed for children ages three and younger, said state representative Philip Miller, vice-chair of the environment committee. The other bill, he added, would require labels on food packages containing the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA). Both bills were passed last week and are headed to the full House for consideration in the next few months.

The environment committee, Miller said, was made aware of scientific studies that show over 250 chemicals — including Tris and BPA — have been found in the umbilical tissue of newborn children in the state, and that several chemicals have been found in mothers’ breast milk.

“It behooves us on a state level to make these things known to our people,” Miller said.

He added that the bill has received broad support from organizations including the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which has testified in its favor. During April, he said, the committee will focus on getting these bills to the House or Senate floor.

Tris, Miller said, is a chemical that is found in children’s bedding and clothing that has been shown to be carcinogenic. BBPA, he added, has been shown to disrupt pregnancies and the functions of the human endocrine systems, particularly in the youth.

“There’s no reason to have BPA in our consumer products,” said John Balmes, professor of environmental health science at the University of California, Berkeley. Due to its estrogen-like nature, he added, BPA has feminizing effects in male kids and causes hormonal imbalances.

Since children’s organs are smaller, a given concentration of a chemical is more potent for them, said Elizabeth Kavanah, executive board member of the Connecticut Environmental Health Association. These bills, she said, are a “step in a right direction” that will help promote better public health for Connecticut citizens.

Balmes said that although these bills demonstrate an effort to protect public health, there is a need for a system that would hold manufacturers more accountable for the safety of their products. Passing single chemical bans can cause companies to make minor molecular changes to a substance, he said, and tend to result in the use of substances with similar toxicity.

“What we really need is approved chemicals policy across the board so that the public is better protected,” he said.

Lacking such a policy, he said, products in the United States are banned only after a public health or environmental crisis.

New Haven Health Director Mario Garcia said the department approves of efforts to remove recognized toxic material from food supply systems and consumer products that could expose children to dangerous chemical substances. He added that although environmental risk assessments of some substances can be controversial, the city’s health department’s jurisdiction does not currently allow for effective regulation of products containing fire retardants or BPA.

In 2009, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to ban BPA from infant formula, baby food cans and jars. The law went into effect on Oct. 1, 2011.

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