‘Chemicals of Concern’ Legislation Proposed in Michigan

Published February 5, 2012

Michigan state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced legislation that would require state regulators to create a list of so-called “chemicals of concern” in children’s products and require importers and large manufacturers to disclose the presence of these chemicals in children’s products

Information—or Stigma?

In a press release, Warren claims the proposed law, dubbed the Safe Children’s Products Act, “would give Michigan families access to the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions and avoid children’s products that contain harmful chemicals.” Proponents argue states must take action because the federal government has not updated the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Opponents note these laws rely on the “precautionary principle” instead of using established scientific facts in a cost-benefit analysis. The precautionary principle is the assumption government should ban products or activities until and unless they are conclusively proven to be safe for human health and the environment. This as an open-ended invitation for ever-increasing government power, they say, and for substituting political considerations for sound science when determining what products can or cannot appear in the marketplace.

Justifying Harmful Regulations

“Regulating chemicals that pose clear, significant health or environmental risks is justified, but laws of this type passed in Maine and California have gone beyond reasonably protecting people from potentially dangerous chemicals,” said Heartland Institute director of government relations John Nothdurft. “Instead they have imposed burdensome regulations that stifle economic growth and product innovation while producing little or no public health or environmental benefits. The precautionary principle has led governments to impose draconian carbon dioxide emission restrictions and bans on the use of safe DDT and agricultural biotech.

“A sound regulatory environment is a key factor in attracting and retaining businesses,” Nothdurft added. “According to the Michigan Chemistry Council, ‘Chemical companies in our State directly employ over 30,000 people, and indirectly contribute around 100,000 jobs to the economy.’ With so much at stake, policymakers should not impose additional regulations unless a problem is reasonably evident and the solution is narrow in scope.”

No Adverse Consequences

“Claims that the Safe Children’s Products Act will protect public health are simply wrong,” said Angela Logomasini, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. “In fact, there isn’t any compelling evidence that the trace chemicals the law would regulate have any adverse public health impact, because the exposures are so minute.

“The legislation, if passed, is likely to prove counterproductive by essentially demonizing valuable products by arbitrarily placing them on a ‘concern’ list. Such listing will encourage manufacturers to abandon valuable products and switch to less tested, potentially more dangerous substitutes,” Logomasini explained.

Sound Science Ignored

Emergency medical physician Dr. John Dale Dunn, a policy advisor for the American Council on Science and Health, says government agencies frequently create chemical scares unsupported by sound science.

“The chemophobia promoted by politicians and agencies is irresponsible,” said Dunn. “People who aspire to work for government agencies regulating environmental chemicals tend to choose such a career path because they are activists to begin with. Once in power, their advocacy is reinforced by the desire to increase agency funding and power. The results are exaggerated and deceptive chemical scares that are laughed at by objective scientists and medical professionals.”

Example: Bisphenol A

“An example is the recent panic about disproven endocrine disrupter claims regarding bisphenol A [BPA],” Dunn explained. “BPA is a chemical commonly used in plastics to provide desired strength and texture. Anti-chemical activists breathlessly claim that BPA endangers children’s health, and in the process are ushering in more expensive and more dangerous products.

“The anti-BPA campaign makes little sense in light of the multiple long-term studies by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Product Safety agency that show bisphenol A is not an endocrine disrupter and is completely safe for its intended use,” said Dunn.  

Dose Makes the Poison

“The dose makes the poison,” Dunn explained. “Lists of ‘chemicals of concern’ like the one proposed in Michigan typically have no relation to intended uses and real-world exposure levels. As a result, they are meaningless except as politically convenient scare tactics and means of consolidating money and power.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.