Sanders: Let Vermont Protect Consumers from Dangerous Chemicals

WASHINGTON, March 18 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today backed stronger curbs on the use of dangerous chemicals in consumer products but criticized a bill in Congress that would take away from Vermont and other states the power to protect consumers with new state regulations.

Under the current federal law, tens of thousands of potentially harmful chemicals have continued to be used in products without proper testing and without disclosure by the companies that use them. The law, enacted in 1976, is so weak that it kept the Environmental Protection Agency from even banning asbestos, which causes cancer.

In the absence of effective federal safeguards, the Vermont Legislature last year passed the Toxic Free Families Act. The state law gave the Department of Health authority to limit the use of toxic chemicals. Among Vermont safeguards already in place are rules that govern toxic flame retardants in consumer products, regulate a family of chemicals known as phthalates in products for young children and limit the use of bisphenol, a chemical known as BPA, which is used in water bottles, sports equipment, food containers and other products.

At a U.S. Senate hearing today, Sanders said new legislation in Congress would undercut future state regulations. “To tie the hands of states, especially those states which have been most active on this issue, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” Sanders said.

He asked Jim Jones, the assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, if a bill by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) would stop Vermont and other states from putting any additional regulations on the books. “The state of Vermont would not be able to take action on a chemical that EPA designated as a high priority,” answered Jones, who heads the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Sanders said it was ironic that the bill would give the EPA exclusive power to regulate chemicals at the same time Republicans in Congress want to make major cuts in the agency’s budget. “I don’t think that passes the laugh test,” Sanders said.

Sanders co-sponsored another chemical safety bill introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). That measure would put in place stronger federal consumer protections without overriding state laws. “We have an obligation to pass legislation which protects the people of this country, especially our children,” Sanders said.