Toxics in Consumer Products

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

By Elisabeth DeLisle and Julie Taylor

Over the past several years, increasing concerns have been raised regarding the presence of chemicals in consumer products (e.g. lead in toys, flame retardants in electronics, phthalates in plastics).  It has been suggested that certain such chemicals may be associated with cancer, asthma, autism, birth defects, infertility, diabetes and other chronic and acute diseases. 

The Massachusetts legislature has been considering action to address these concerns.  The latest iteration of such legislation, Bill S. 2079, An Act for a competitive economy through safer alternatives to toxic chemicals (http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/Senate/S02079), was reported out of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture last year and sent on to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.  Bill S. 2079 would, among other things: require the listing and categorization of chemicals; provide for designation of two to four priority chemical substances per year; require that manufacturers notify the state of products or processes that use priority chemical substances; require research to determine whether feasible safer alternatives exist for priority chemical substances; and require MassDEP to develop chemical action plans, including plans for requiring the substitution of safer alternatives for priority chemical substances in designated priority chemical substance uses.  No further action has occurred on Bill S. 2079. 

Massachusetts is not alone in considering action to require the use of safer alternatives for toxics in consumer products.  For example, the public comment period only recently closed on regulations proposed by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) (http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/upload/SCPProposedRegulationsNoUnderlineJuly2012.pdf) that would establish a process for identifying alternatives somewhat similar to that proposed in Bill S. 2079.  It is unclear when such regulations will be finalized.

While policymakers work, some companies appear to be making attempts to address consumer’s concerns.  For example, earlier this year Johnson & Johnson announced that it would remove certain potentially harmful chemicals from its line of consumer products by the end of 2015.  (See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/business/johnson-johnson-to-remove-formaldehyde-from-products.html).    

 

Contact Elisabeth DeLisle at elisabeth.m.delisle@gmail.com or Julie Taylor at jt@noblewickersham.com with any comments or questions.