WASHINGTON - Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced a bill Thursday that he said would fast-track the phase-out of the most harmful chemicals identified by scientists – chemicals that don't break down in the environment and that build up in the food chain so that even small amounts can be dangerous.
Known as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PBTs), they are found in everyday objects like popcorn bags and pizza boxes, and can end up in the food we eat.
Merkley said these chemicals have remained unregulated because Congress hasn't updated chemical safety laws since the 1970s, leaving government agencies without the authority to regulate even the most harmful chemicals.
"We need to get these dangerous chemicals out of consumer products immediately," Merkley said. "These chemicals are the worst of the worst. They cause cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and many other serious health problems.
"It's unacceptable that these chemicals go into so many products used by families and children—even couches and mattresses—yet there are virtually no limits on their use. My bill would help protect innocent families from deadly diseases and leave our environment safer and more livable."
The bill, the Protecting America's Families from Toxic Chemicals Act, would require federal regulators to phase out most applications of PBTs within the next five years. The phase-out would apply to all uses, except where the elimination of a chemical would damage national security, or would cause a significant disruption to the economy, and where there is no alternative.
Examples of chemicals addressed in the bill include mercury, lead, flame retardants, and PFOS. Brominated flame retardants– commonly found in upholstered furniture and mattresses – have been shown to cause birth defects and learning disabilities. A chemical called PFOS, used to add stain resistance, is used to make non-stick cookware, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, carpets and fabrics, and is known to contribute to developmental disorder, cancers, and thyroid disease.
Merkley said the bill has the support of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, a coalition of 450 organizations and businesses working toward reforming outdated toxic chemical laws.
It is also supported by BizNGO, a coalition of businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Staples, Dignity Health, Perkins+Will, and Construction Specialties, Inc., working to shift the market to safer chemicals.