03/25/2015 08:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2015

Long Distance Government

Senate bill S.697, legislation to reauthorize and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), will create stumbling blocks for states that wish to protect their citizens and their families from harmful chemicals. In my opinion, this bill is not unlike asking residents across the country to rely on first responders from Washington, D.C., to respond to their emergency when they call 911. Could you imagine needing the police or fire department and having to call Washington for help? It just doesn't make sense. 

Proponents of the proposed legislation will tell you that it is all about creating one rule book -- not fifty-two. Although the idea of one rule book might sound like a solution, in reality this is more of a sound bite rather than anything that would be effective. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about our children and other vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and the elderly. There is little substance in the idea of turning over the supervision and authority of toxic substances and the protection of your family to a government that is off-site. 

Today, just as one example, asbestos is still legal in the United States, and you can find it in anything from vinyl flooring to roofing.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Currently, about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. According to the most recent WHO estimates, more than 107, 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from exposure at work. Approximately half of the deaths from occupational cancer are estimated to be caused by asbestos. In addition, it is estimated that several thousand deaths annually can be attributed to exposure to asbestos in the home." WHO goes on to say, "It has also been shown that co-exposure to tobacco smoke and asbestos fibres substantially increases the risk for lung cancer - and the heavier the smoking, the greater the risk."

Author of a World Without Cancer, physician, and Less Cancer board member Margaret I. Cuomo, MD addresses the issue of toxic substances and their effects on cancer: Dr. Cuomo writes in her book: "Almost 80,000 chemicals are sold in the United States, and we are exposed to many of them on a daily basis. We know with alarming certainty that some of these cause cancer, but most remain unexamined and unregulated."

Cuomo continues, "For the most part, we now regulate chemicals by allowing them to be used, and then reacting if evidence of a problem accumulates. Requiring manufacturers to prove their products safe before marketing them would be a huge step forward in making a prevention-oriented commitment."

Also in Cuomo's book: In 2010, the President's Cancer Panel appealed directly to the President: "The Panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation's productivity and devastate American lives."

It is now 2015, and nothing has changed at the federal level to protect American consumers. That is why statewide initiatives are essential, and why we should all support our state's ability to protect us. "

You can see this is not about choosing options, but rather about doing all we can to shield ourselves from the risk of harmful chemicals on behalf of the public both on the national and state level. 

On May 20, 2015, New York state will be hosting its first Cancer Prevention Summit in Manhattan to address some of these toxic-substances issues. Nationally, the closest effort on that front is National Cancer Prevention Day, that Less Cancer founded on February 4th as a working day on Capitol Hill. The day addresses issues on cancer prevention that include this important topic of toxic chemicals.

New York is a leading force in chemical reform. According to

New York State ranks third in the nation in population and economy. Its children face significant health problems related to chemicals in the environment: Asthma incidence has tripled in the past three decades, and now affects a quarter of a million New York children. Over 180,000 New York children have a learning disability, and more than 660,000 have a developmental or behavioral disorder. Lead poisoning affects 2,200 children each year. Conservative cost estimates to New York of diseases of environmental origin are $4.35 billion annually. To address these concerns, New York has been a leader in laws to remove toxic chemicals from common products, including passing bans on mercury in products, PBDEs in products, the first in the nation ban on the carcinogenic flame retardant TCEP and leading bans on BPA in baby bottles in four counties and then statewide.

Another leader on this front is the state of Washington, reports:

Washington State is a leading force in the nation on toxic chemicals: Washington passed a first-in-the-nation ban on the toxic flame retardant deca (PBDE) that inspired chemical manufacturers to work with EPA and voluntarily phase out PBDE production nationally. WA passed a ban on the use of hormone-disrupting BPA in baby bottles -- helping build momentum that resulted in the FDA taking up the ban at the national level in 2012. Washington passed the strongest ban in the nation on lead, cadmium and phthalates in children's products, inspiring passage of a federal ban.

One other bill is coming: bill number S.725. This bill would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act. Sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and cosponsored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), it would provide stronger federal consumer protections without overriding state laws.

The good news is that there are some states working in a multitude of ways to protect their citizens, and there's a growing movement to do more on the state level. Those states' efforts must be preserved, and we certainly want to protect their rights to develop laws that will serve and protect their citizens.
States are doing important work to protect citizens from harmful chemicals. In California, for instance, The Safer Consumer Products reports; that the program strives to reduce toxic chemicals in products consumers buy and use. The website for Toxic Substance Control highlights its program:

"It identifies specific products containing potentially harmful chemicals and asks manufacturers to answer two questions: 1) Is this chemical necessary? 2) Is there a safer alternative? 

The program requires manufacturers to conduct a thorough analysis of alternatives to make sure they don't pose environmental or health problems. The result is that consumers will confidence that the products they buy are safe for their families and the environment.

An explanation of the program can also be found on the site:

The Department of Toxic Substances Control's (DTSC) Safer Consumer Products regulations take effect October 1, 2013 and will be phased in over the next several years to coordinate with the timing of the various regulatory requirements according to its website. 

'The goals of this program are to reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products, create new business opportunities in the emerging safer consumer products economy and reduce the burden on consumers and businesses struggling to identify what's in the products they buy for their families and customers.'

To accomplish these goals, the SCP Program will rely on reports submitted by responsible entities, such as the manufacturer, to inform and increase the use of safer chemicals in products, homes, schools and workplaces, which produce significant environmental and economic benefits.

By shifting the question of an ingredient's toxicity to the product development stage, concerns can be addressed early on. The approach results in safer ingredients and designs, and provides an opportunity for California industry to once again demonstrate its innovative spirit by making products that meet consumer demand throughout the world.

So where do you start? There is little to nothing to preclude states from taking action to protect citizens from toxic chemicals as we have seen in California, Washington, Vermont and New York are doing to protect the public. You can find out more at

We cannot do enough to protect our families from the effects of harmful chemicals. While politicians in Washington, D.C., try to enact new legislation, you can be engaging state lawmakers where you live to determine a positive course of action in protecting your family and community.