At a recent workshop entitled “Toxins in Everyday Products,” Hood River pediatrician Rich Martin introduced a tough subject to his audience of 15 adults gathered in the basement conference room of the Hood River Library.
Martin, as a pediatrician, is used to employing his calming voice to sooth. Lucky for the audience — because the information he shared, alongside presenters from the Oregon Environmental Council, was none too reassuring.
Martin is speaking out on the need for manufacturers to inform the public of toxins routinely used in products — particularly those chemicals known to be harmful to children.
“Kids deserve a healthy future. Toxins have the potential to interfere with learning, health and behavior and we need to address that,” said Martin.
“There is proposed legislation in Salem which would force manufacturers to disclose if any of the 19 most common toxic compounds are found anywhere in their products,” he added.
Martin was referring to HB 3162, which would require toxins disclosure by manufacturers to the Oregon Department of Public Health, and would require phasing out the use of those toxins over a five-year period.
“We don’t have to see belching smokestacks to have pollutants and toxins in our environment. We have them everywhere around us in the products we use,” said Martin.
To illustrate his point, on the display table at the workshop were typical children’s products: a blanket, a bottle and a variety of toys. Martin read out the toxins — reported by the manufacturers — used in their toy products: Phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) and formaldehyde, to name just a few.
With small body sizes, rapid growth rates and high exposure through handling and mouth contact, children are at special risk from these harmful substances.
The push for toxin disclosure is gaining visibility nationwide and the Oregon bill is modeled after one recently passed in Washington state.
Supporting the importance of disclosure regulation, Sarah Petras, environmental health program director with OEC said, “Legislators need to know that Oregonians are concerned about exposures to toxic chemicals, and that we want protections in place to safeguard the health of our kids.
“People in the Hood River area can have an even bigger impact. Your state representatives, Senator Chuck Thomsen and Representative Mark Johnson, need to hear from you directly that you want them to help protect kids from toxics.
“The most important thing you can do is pick up the phone or email them today and tell them this issue matters to you,” she said.
“These compounds build up in our bodies. For children, the impacts of these chemicals are even greater than for adults,” said Martin.
HB 3162 would create the “High Priority Chemical of Concern for Children’s Health” list, based on the existing scientifically-researched Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s “toxic focus” list and Washington’s list of “chemicals of high concern for children.” Both sources document chemicals that have been found to be cancer causing, endocrine (hormone) disrupting or harmful to reproduction or development.
By targeting the identification, reporting and ultimate phasing out of the most commonly used toxins, the bill supporters hope to improve health for children and the general population.
“If we are helping keep our children safe, we are keeping us all safer,” said Jen Coleman, OEC presenter. “These chemicals are in products. As shoppers, we don’t currently know what is in our products. Without this required disclosure, no one else knows, either.”
In a 2007 Oregon study conducted by OEC — known as the “Pollution in People Report” — 10 volunteers of differing ages, genders and socio-economic status volunteered to have their blood tested for 29 known toxins. Six of the identified toxins were found in every single person’s body. Nineteen of the toxins were found across differing members of the group. The results highlight concerns about exposure.
Petras added, “We’ve seen fierce pushback from the extremely well-funded chemical and toy industries. They want to keep the status quo intact ... The only way we’re going to counter industry money, influence and misinformation is if Oregonians speak up and demand greater protections for our kids.
“No child deserves to grow up with toxic toys, blankets and other everyday products,” she said.
In the interim, parents may already access the Washington state reporting system to find toxin disclosures by manufacturer: Adjust dates to review a full calendar year to see full data; available at: http://1.usa.gov/15jfbFQ. It is not yet possible to identify toxins within each individual product; the list includes toxins used throughout a manufacturer’s toy or child product line.
For details on ways to reduce personal exposure and on OEC’s efforts to secure passage of the bill see: www.oeconline.org.