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Hartford — A bill that would require the state Department of Public Health and other state agencies to create a list of chemicals that might be harmful to children was debated in the General Assembly’s Committee on Children on Thursday.
Several industry associations spoke out against the bill and said they wanted chemicals to be regulated at the federal level, while many legislators on the committee said they had waited long enough for the federal government.
“It is well within the purview of the states to do this when the federal government is really dropping the ball on this issue,” said state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who co-chairs the committee.
Representatives from toy, plastics, chemical manufacturing and household product associations asked the committee to wait on the federal government, but many state lawmakers said they wanted ways to protect their children now.
“I think if you are representing the industry and hear all the criticism, maybe you could talk to the people you are representing and come back with something more substantial to help us protect our children,” said state Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford.
Margaret Gorman, manager of state affairs for the Northeast region of the American Chemistry Council, a plastics and chemical manufacturers trade association, said the bill would create a list of chemicals of concern in a haphazard manner.
“This method is likely to just produce a long list of chemicals that do not pose a real risk to children,” she said. “The mere presence of a chemical does not equal harm.”
The federal Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates new and existing chemicals, was passed in 1976, and Urban said it hasn’t been reformed in decades.
“We know there are in excess of 70,000 (chemicals) that have never been tested,” Urban said.
Andrew R. Hackman, a representative of the Toy Industry Association, said he could understand the legislators’ skepticism of the federal government, but he thought reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act was the best way to go.
“Connecticut is a very important state for us in terms of employment, and we hope that our companies can continue to operate here,” Hackman said.
LEGO and Melissa & Doug are among the toy manufacturers, distributors and makers that employ more than 4,000 people in Connecticut, he said.
Gretchen Raffa, director of public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England Inc., said the organization supported the bill because of growing evidence that shows some industrial chemicals called endocrine disruptors can cause serious risks to women’s health, such as infertility, breast cancer, early puberty and recurrent miscarriages.
In men, these chemicals can cause abnormal development of the prostate, decrease sperm count and increase the risk for prostate cancer, Raffa said.
Michelle Noehren, the events and special projects director for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said the commission supported the bill because it would help protect children and pregnant women.
“Many toxic chemicals have the ability to not only cross the placenta but pass through mom to child through breast milk,” Noehren said.