How State Chemical Safety Policy Shapes The Consumer Market

States have been leading the way when it comes to protecting people from dangerous chemicals. The result –- a systematic shift in the consumer products market nationwide.

Early last month, with data complied from the Safer States Bill Tracker, EWG released a series of maps that showed state government actions to protect people’s health from various hazardous chemicals. The benefits of these state actions are not confined to those states only. Rather, state actions can have a national impact by moving the consumer products market throughout the country. Where one state discloses or restricts a hazardous chemical in a product, all states feel the positive effect when manufacturers change their practices.

Here are some examples of how this can work:

  • Twelve states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin) have regulated bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system and has been linked to a wide variety of illnesses, including infertility and breast and reproductive system cancer, in some products. Due in part to these state regulations, BPA is no longer in baby bottles or baby formula. Every state in the nation has benefited from these state actions.
  • California banned PBDEs, toxic flame retardant chemicals, in 2004. Later that year, there was a voluntary national phase-out. A recent sharp decline in the presence of these chemicals in patients tested at San Francisco General Hospital was attributed to the state ban and national phase-out.
  • California, Vermont and Washington banned phthalates in a number of children’s products in 2007 and 2008. These state actions, helped inspire a federal ban on phthalates in toys and children’s articles mandated by the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act. Major companies like Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart phased out phthalates from their products, as well.
  • Last year Illinois banned microbeads, and several other states are now considering regulatory action against them. Several major corporations, including Unilever (2013), L’Oreal (2014), Johnson & Johnson (2013), Procter & Gamble (2013) and Target (2014), have committed to phasing out microbeads from their products. While one could argue that these companies began to reformulate their products before state action, it is likely that the state action and pending legislation has spurred and sped up the market reaction.
  • Minnesota banned formaldehyde in some products in 2013 and triclosan in some products last year. Several other states are now considering restrictions on both chemicals. Johnson & Johnson took action in 2012 to stop adding formaldehyde and triclosan to its products. Procter & Gamble began phasing out triclosan from most of its products in 2013. Last year Avon announced that it would phase out triclosan from its products. At least one reporter has attributed the reformulations in Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, to anticipated regulations under California’s 2008 Green Chemistry Initiative law.

Despite all this progress, the industry-backed bill being offered by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) would radically reduce states’ rights to take actions to restrict chemicals and continue moving the market. Among other things, the proposed bill would:  

  • Restrict states from taking new actions to regulate any “high priority” chemical for which the Environmental Protection Agency has initiated a safety review. This could create a long delay, during which there would be neither federal nor state regulation of that chemical.
  • States would be blocked from adopting and co-enforcing EPA restrictions on those chemicals.
  • States could be blocked from using their own clean air and water laws to control those chemicals.

Proponents of the industry-backed bill get a lot wrong about the role states play to protect consumers from toxic chemicals like BPA and mercury in everyday products. They argue that because not all states have taken actions on toxic chemicals, it is better to have strong federal regulations that would apply everywhere. This argument clearly ignores how successful state action has generated the pressure necessary to move national consumer markets.

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