Portland, OR – Pressing federal regulators for immediate action, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today stood with health care professionals to urge Congress to pass legislation that would protect America’s families from some of the most harmful chemicals identified by scientists. Known as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBTs), these chemicals are found in everyday objects like popcorn bags and pizza boxes and accumulate as they move up the food chain and into the food we eat. Merkley introduced legislation in the Senate yesterday that would allow federal regulators to fast-track the phase-out of these harmful chemicals.
“It’s time for our chemical laws to catch up with science,” Merkley said at the event, which took place at Oregon Health and Science University’s Center for Health and Healing. “It’s unacceptable that these chemicals go into so many products used by families and children—even couches and mattresses—yet there are virtually no limits on their use.”
Merkley’s bill, the Protecting America’s Families from Toxic Chemicals Act, would require federal regulators to phase out most applications of PBTs within the next five years. The phase-out would apply to all uses, except where the elimination of a chemical would damage national security, or would cause a significant disruption to the economy, and where there is no alternative.
Merkley was joined by advocates and health professionals, including Margaret Ngai, a nurse and mother of two young children, and Dr. Susan Katz, President of the Board of the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, who addressed the serious health risks associated with PBTs. PBTs can cause health problems such as cancer, birth defects, developmental disorders and learning disabilities, which are particularly harmful to pregnant women and small children.
Examples of chemicals addressed in the bill include mercury, lead, flame retardants, and PFOS. Brominated flame retardants– commonly found in upholstered furniture and mattresses – have been shown to cause birth defects and learning disabilities. A chemical called PFOS, used to add stain resistance, is used to make pizza boxes, popcorn bags, carpets and fabrics, and is known to contribute to developmental disorder, cancers, and thyroid disease.
Congress’s failure to update 1970’s-era chemical safety laws has resulted in weak regulation of PBTs, leaving government agencies without the authority to regulate even the most harmful chemicals.
Merkley’s bill has the support of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, a coalition of 450 organizations and businesses working toward reforming outdated toxic chemical laws. It is also supported by BizNGO, a coalition of businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Staples, Dignity Health, Perkins+Will, and Construction Specialties, Inc., working to shift the market to safer chemicals.