Toxic Chemicals bill on Beacon Hill mirrors new European law

Last Friday marked the first day legislation designed to regulate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives in Europe took effect.The new law, which requires hundreds of companies doing business in Europe to research the health effects of chemicals they use and identify safer substitutes, closely resembles one under consideration by Massachusetts lawmakers.As European regulators begin the enforcement process across the Atlantic, debate is heating up at the State House over the Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals Bill. The proposed legislation will be subject of a June 11 hearing before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture.The grassroots group Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow is organizing panels of experts to testify in support of the bill, while the chemical industries are expected muster stiff opposition.According to Leise Jones, a spokesman for the group and organizer of its Toxics Campaign, debate over the so-called REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) bill “was the fiercest lobbying battle in European Union history” based on an assessment by Greenpeace.”We expect the battle in Massachusetts to be no less heated. The chemical industry is already working hard to counter the thousands of Massachusetts residents demanding safer products,” Jones said.The adoption of REACH in Europe merely sets the stage for implementation and enforcement, a process expected to take years.A special commission will examine the legislation and propose any amendments to the European Parliament. Fees are supposed to pay for 80 percent of the budget of the new European Chemicals Agency established by REACH.Sen. Steven A. Tolman, a Brighton Democrat, and state Rep. Jay Kaufman, whose district includes Lexington, Arlington and Woburn, proposed the bill because scientific evidence increasingly indicates that many toxic chemicals at work and at home are contributing to an epidemic of disease, including: asthma, birth defects, cancers, developmental disabilities, diabetes, infertility and Parkinson’s.According to the legislators, more than 80,000 synthetic chemicals have been produced for use in the U.S since World War II, yet few have been adequately tested for potential negative impact on human health. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates some of these dangerous chemicals, while assuming there exists an “acceptable risk” level for workers exposed. Safer alternatives to some of these chemicals are available.Tolman said the bill would create a program to promote these safer alternatives while protecting the health and jobs of workers. The bill directs that a Safer Alternatives Oversight Board be established to oversee the process.Like the European version, a fee structure would be imposed on the sale or distribution of “priority toxic substances” in products or services delivered in the state, with the goal of gathering $10 million annually.So far, 10 chemicals have been identified as “priority toxic substances.”The proposed legislation also provides that after the third year of enactment, a petition signed by only 10 citizens of Massachusetts would be needed to add additional substances to the priority list.The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would serve as the enforcement agency, preparing action plans to replace toxic substances with safer alternatives. Each chemical the priority list would require an action plan.Tolman said the state’s current regulatory system has failed to protect health and environment due to fundamental flaws.The American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry trade organization, lobbied against REACH and asserts that the proposed Massachusetts legislation is redundant since federal laws like the Toxic Use Reduction Action of 1976 already impose mandates on chemical use.Steven Russell, an ACC spokesman, said the chemical industry voluntarily polices itself. Further, the REACH legislation adopted in Euro

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