PHUONG LE Associated Press Writer — September 15, 2009
SEATTLE (AP) — In 2008, Washington became the first state in the U.S. to pass a law requiring manufacturers to report whether certain products contain chemicals toxic to children.
But nine months after the deadline, the northwestern state is still months from creating a list of top 50 chemicals that manufacturers of children's products, such as toys and car seats, would be required to disclose.
State officials blame budget cuts, a hiring freeze and the difficulty of prioritizing a short list from a field of thousands of chemicals that are most harmful to children.
"It's been quite a bit harder than we anticipated," said Carol Kraege, the state's toxics policy coordinator. "We are late, and we're doing as much as we can do."
The state will seek public comment next month on how best to come up with that list. It will come up with top 50 list by next spring.
Since Washington passed the Children's Safe Product Act last year, Maine, Connecticut and Minnesota have enacted similar legislation targeting toxic chemicals in children's products.
"Many states are looking to Washington to see how this is going to play out," said Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, campaign director with the Washington Toxics Coalition, which lobbied for the Washington law.
"It's important to make sure we get it right," she said.
State officials have identified about 2,000 priority chemicals, from a field of about 80,000, that cause cancer and harm fetal development, among other criteria.
From there, they'll whittle down the list to those that are most harmful to kids and likely to be found in children's products. Six months after the list is created, manufacturers will be required to disclose whether their products contain those chemicals.
"The end goal is awareness on the part of consumers so they can have an informed decision about the products they want to have," said Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, primary sponsor of the Washington law.
She said the list will likely include bisphenol-A, or BPA, a substance commonly used to harden plastic that has raised health concerns because it can mimic estrogen, a powerful hormone. Mercury may be on the list, but some chemicals such as lead and phthalates that already are federally regulated won't be.
Andy Hackman, a spokesman for the Toy Industry Association, said he wants to make sure the process looks at both the hazards of a particular chemical and a child's exposure to it.
"Our main goal ... is ensuring it's a science-based program that comes out," he said, adding that "it's going to be a challenging task for any company regardless of what industry you're in."
John Ryan, general counsel for Toysmith, a national toy distributor based in Washington state, was concerned the list will be extreme and include chemicals that aren't related to children's products or are already heavily regulated.
"We certainly don't want to sell toys with awful chemicals in them," Ryan said. "That's not the way we do business."