Advocates say pass the Safe Chemicals Act

Great Falls Tribune

by Jason Kiely and Erin Switalski

When the U.S. Senate returns from summer holiday next month, they’ll have an opportunity to test the possibilities for change and innovation in our state while dramatically improving consumer health through a bill that’s currently flying under the national radar: the Safe Chemicals Act.

For the past year, Sens. Baucus and Tester have been working hard to research, refine and cosponsor this important legislation that would improve the safety of chemicals used in everyday consumer products like children’s toys, the cleaners we use every day, and the paint we put on our walls. Their work in DC makes economic sense too: if passed, the Safe Chemicals Act would incentivize a new wave of clean, sustainable products and create the jobs – in Montana and across the nation- needed to bring these products to market.

Currently, there are more than 80,000 chemicals used in the United States in our electronics, toys, mattresses, cleaning products and clothing, and yet just 200 have been evaluated for safety. At a minimum this situation is disconcerting, and upon deeper investigation it’s alarming. Scientific evidence is mounting that exposure to chemicals may be affecting our health, resulting in a greater risk of breast cancer, leukemia, developmental disorders among children, and even obesity.

The Toxic Substances Control Act, the law that is supposed to protect the American public from these health risks (like the protections we have in place for food and drugs), is insufficient- in fact it hasn’t been updated since 1976.

Meanwhile, thousands of new chemicals have been introduced to the market. Information on their safety is largely unknown.

If the U.S. passes the Safe Chemicals Act, we would join other countries in requiring that chemicals are proven safe before they are put into products that people use everyday. Thanks to the leadership of Sens. Baucus and Tester, Montanans could look forward to a world where lead poisonings from children’s jewelry and formaldehyde in drywall are disasters of the past, a world where U.S. consumers have more control and peace of mind when buying products.

Enacting federal protections would bring a unique economic benefit to this region. That’s because Montana hosts companies in the burgeoning green chemistry industry, including Missoula-based Rivertop Renewables. The positive impacts of this new policy would cascade directly to our state economy, creating a new base of investment, taxes and jobs. Rivertop- the technology of which was spun out of the University of Montana- develops biodegradable chemicals for products that touch our lives every day. Today Rivertop is creating sustainable solutions for the detergent, corrosion inhibition, and petroleum industries- tomorrow a variety of advanced biobased products. If our federal chemical-safety requirements are overhauled this year, we can expect that even more companies will be demanding these advanced innovations for their products, bringing more investment, jobs, and prosperity to Montana.

Support from the public has been an essential component in pushing these reforms forward.

Organizations like Women’s Voices for the Earth have educated the public about the health hazards associated with the existing weak laws and have mobilized advocates for changes that would benefit families across the state and the nation.

It’s not always the case that businesses and health groups have the opportunity to unite behind a health or environmental issue, but in this instance, together we are creating workable solutions to cost-effectively increase human health by leveraging the innovation we have right here in Montana. We do have the technology to create safer products, and the market is ripe. Passing this legislation would benefit both our health and our economy.

The Safe Chemicals Act is now at a historic crossroads and could be heading for a Senate floor vote for the first time in 36 years. If you agree with us, please call and thank Sens. Tester and Baucus for co-sponsoring the Act. Then ask them to push this important piece of legislation forward to a vote on the Senate floor.

Sens. Tester and Baucus, the strong, diverse alliance of businesses, nonprofits, health care providers and parents will be there in each step of this mission to protect our children and families, while laying the foundation for long-term economic prosperity in Montana.

Jason Kiely is vice president, Rivertop Renewables in Missoula. Erin Switalski is executive director, Women’s Voices for the Earth in Missoula.