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New York State: Avoid these 85 chemicals if you can

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

By Olga Naidenko, PhD, EWG Senior Scientist

When someone with $8 billion a year in purchasing power tells the world what they don't want, marketers and manufacturers are likely to pay attention.

That's what's happened recently in New York, where state agencies operate 16,000 facilities and a fleet of 17,000 vehicles and generate more than 800,000 tons of waste a year. The state has a new official policy that urges those agencies, for the sake of public health, to avoid buying things that contain any of 85 toxic chemicals whenever they can find safer, cost-effective alternatives. The goal is to minimize New Yorkers' exposure to these chemicals as much as possible and keep the bad stuff from ending up in landfills.

The unprecedented step is a victory for the people of the New York, but potentially also for other states that may be inspired to follow the Empire State's example.

A special inter-agency committee adopted the policy two days before the end of 2010 and published its "avoidance list." On it are known and probable human carcinogens as well as substances that accumulate in the body and don't readily break down in the environment, the so-called persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals - PBTs for short.

Said Anne Rabe of the national Center for Health, Environment & Justice:

"This will have a major impact on greening the marketplace with New York State's annual buying power of $9 billion."

Although it is advisory only and agencies are not required to follow it, The Green Procurement Chemical Avoidance List is a powerful model for exercising consumer choice on a grand scale to protect public health from toxic chemicals in products, building materials or equipment.

The list is the product of a four-year effort that brought together multiple environmental groups, aided by supportive New York state officials. Former Gov. David A. Paterson signed the executive order creating the inter-agency committee in April 2008, and newly installed Gov. Andrew Cuomo renewed it shortly after taking office this month.

We at Environmental Working Group applaud these inspiring efforts. The protection of public health - and the hard work of purchasing officers seeking to make best decisions for their communities - will be greatly aided by the decision in New York.

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