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 MPIRG Takes the Lead on Chemical Policy  Reform

Take Action // MPIRG is working with our partners in the Healthy Legacy coalition to set up a meeting with Senators Klobuchar and Franken to discuss reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act. Please take a moment to contact our Senators and urge them to meet and discuss real reform that protects children and families.

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Your Senators contact information:
Senator Klobuchar, Email or 1-888-224-9043
Senator Franken, Email or 1-202-224-5641

Background // Not only are toxic chemicals polluting our environment, but they contribute to many chronic adverse health affects in our population. There are 80,000 chemicals, mostly untested, used in manufacturing. Only 200 have been tested in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)with five actually being banned. Thousands go unregulated by the government and pose dangerous health risks for the public including some of the most vulnerable, our children. In contrast, the European Union has banned almost 30,000 toxic chemicals.  Outdated federal policies, like the Toxic Substance Control Act, passed in 1976, have failed to protect the public’s health.

During the 2009 Minnesota State Legislative Session, the public won a huge victory against Bisphenol-A (BPA), the endocrine disrupting chemical found in many plastics and consumer products. BPA was banned in baby bottles and “sippy” cups making Minnesota the first state in the nation to regulate the toxin.  The legislative victory sparked a national movement to regulate the chemical with the city of Chicago and the state of Connecticut to pass similar bans, the state of Massachusets issuing a health advisory warning about the chemical and several other states introducing comparable regulatory bills.  

MPIRG works with the Healthy Legacy Coalition to collect over 6,000 public comments and have children deliver them encouraging Gov. Pawlenty to sign the BPA Free Baby Products Bill and the Toxic Free Kids Act.

Minnesota’s Legislature also passed the Toxic Free Kids Act that moves the regulatory process away from the chemical by chemical approach and sets up framework aimed at developing a list of chemicals, prioritizing the chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBTs), and then recommend those priority chemicals to be phased out of consumer products and replaced with safer alternatives.  Similar legislation in Maine has already produced and released a list of dangerous toxic chemicals which topped 1,700 different chemicals (

Macalester student lobbies Senator Cohen

MPIRG's Mollie Mayfield, a Macalester College student, lobbies Senator Dick Cohen on the BPA Free Baby Products Bill and the Toxic Free Kids Act.

Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBTs) Chemicals //
PBTs are chemicals that are persistent, meaning they do not breakdown in the natural environment, bioaccumulative meaning that the chemical builds up in the food chain, and toxic.  PBTs include a long list of chemicals used as pesticides, herbicides and fungicides applied to our food and public lands as well as chemicals like BPA, phthalates, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and other chemicals commonly used in consumer products.  Many of these chemicals have been linked to numerous cancers, learning and development disabilities, reproductive disorders such as miscarriages, obesity, diabetes and more.  Contrary to traditional toxicology which measures human health impacts from chemical exposure by large amounts of exposure, more and more peer reviewed research is showing that PBTs are in fact more harmful in low dose exposures.

Federal Action
At the federal level chemical regulatory policy is also moving.  The Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009 seeks to restrict the use of BPA in numerous consumer products including children’s products, aluminum can linings, and plastic food packaging.  The bill has met political opposition in the U.S. House as democrats, concerned with restoring the nation’s confidence in federal agencies, argue that regulatory polices related to toxic chemical exposure through consumer products is better left to the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency. The FDA is expected to make a ruling on BPA’s safety in the coming months.

Another bill expected to be introduced in the fall of 2009 called the Kids Safe Chemicals Act is looking to reform the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), the outdated federal policy that didn’t even have the regulatory power to protect the public from known toxic chemicals like asbestos.  The reform of TSCA will  establish the federal framework to identify dangerous chemicals, prioritize persistent, bioaccumulative toxins, phase them out of consumer products and replace them with safer alternatives. 

These are the first of chemical policy reforms the United States will consider as it continues to fall behind most of the world in protecting its public from toxic chemical exposure through everyday consumer products.  In 2006, the European Union passed the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) which monitors the production of chemicals and their potential impact on human health and the environment.   The E.U.’s REACH program is to date, the most comprehensive framework to identify toxic chemicals and phase them out.  Other governments including China and Japan have begun to set up similar regulatory systems and look at the life cycle of products that contain toxic chemicals. 

The movement to reform the way we use chemicals in our consumer products and protect public health is not without stiff, well funded opposition.  The American Chemistry Council (ACC), an international trade association representing the chemical companies, has opposed any reform internationally and here in the United States.  The ACC represents companies such as 3M, Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil, Honeywell, Dupont, and Monsanto.   The Minnesota Legislature is not immune from the reach of the ACC.  Representatives of the multinational corporate trade association have lobbied elected officials in St. Paul, testified in front of legislative committees, and worked tirelessly to cast a shadow of doubt on the science surrounding the effects of chemicals like BPA on human health.  The industry representatives have consistently argued for a risk assessment approach to chemical policy even as the rest of the world moves towards a precautionary principled approach.

Risk Assessment v. Precautionary Principle //

When discussing the reform of how we use chemicals in consumer products there are two basic schools of thought.  Risk assessment, the contemporary approach, seeks to allow the use of chemicals in consumer products without adequate testing before they are released on the market and available to the public.  It also allows for a certain level of harm, for instance, some levels of BPA and lead are acceptable under this school of thought for the public to be exposed to.  The precautionary principled approach requires testing of chemicals and their effect on human health and the environment before they are able to be used in consumer products and released on the market for public access.  If a chemical is found to be harmful to human health, then it should be removed .As MPIRG works with the Healthy Legacy Coalition to reform chemical policy in the United States and in Minnesota, we support the precautionary principle as the best way to ensure that the public and our children are protected from toxic chemical exposure through consumer products.

Green Chemistry and Safe Production //

As we search for the alternative chemicals to dangerous toxins in our consumer products, Green Chemistry becomes the beacon of hope in a cutting edge field of chemistry.  Green Chemistry is a chemical philosophy that seeks to make products and processes that reduce the production and generation of hazardous materials.  Green Chemistry is focused on developing the alternatives to traditional    toxicology and the hazardous chemicals that are used in consumer products.  Colleges and universities across the country are working to expand their research and education curriculums to include elements of Green Chemistry to create the safer alternatives that we need to protect public health.  As MPIRG works with the Healthy Legacy Coalition to reform chemical policy in the United States and in Minnesota, we support the expanded research and development of Green Chemistry and incentives for businesses to apply Green Chemistry principles to their product development and distribution.

Get Involved! // Tell your legislator how you feel about toxins in consumer goods. See the Detox Minnesota! Fact Sheet below for ideas on what to say. Or for sample letters, e-mail Jamison Tessneer at

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