Legislature(2015 - 2016)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
01/28/2016 01:30 PM LABOR & COMMERCE
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SB 111-LIMIT FLAME RETARDANT ITEMS/FURNITURE 2:19:39 PM CHAIR COSTELLO reconvened the meeting and announced the consideration of SB 111. [This is the first hearing.] 2:19:48 PM SENATOR BILL WIELECHOWSKI, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, sponsor of SB 111, said he has been working on this issue for eight years for these reasons: Imagine that the cribs that your baby slept in are full of toxic chemicals. They are. Imagine if the high chairs your kids sat in are full of toxic chemicals. They are. Imagine if the furniture in your home was full of toxic chemicals. It is. The seats, toys, kids clothing is all full of toxic chemicals. A toxic cocktail that is in our mattresses, that is in our furniture, not measured by ounces but by pounds in many cases. These chemicals cause neurological deficits, prenatal damage, hypothyroidism, [and] breast cancer. [They are] chemicals that bio accumulate in animals and fish and are poisoning Alaskans, especially those that live a subsistence lifestyle. [They are] chemicals that are poisoning firefighters who fight fires and breath in these toxic substances. Do you believe we should take some sort of action to protect Alaskans from these chemicals? Now imagine if we had safer alternatives that are already being widely used. Imagine that some states in the United States have already banned or enacted restrictions against these toxic chemicals. They have. Imagine if the European Union has banned these chemicals. They have. Should we continue to sit back and do nothing? Do we not have an obligation to our constituents and to the people of Alaska to do something? I believe we do. The Alaska Constitution tells us what our obligation is. Article VII, Section 4 says very clearly, "The legislature shall provide for the promotion and protection of public welfare." That is exactly what we are doing with this bill, protecting the public health. I've heard all the industry arguments against this bill over the years. They come from the chemical industry and the phony Astroturf organizations they've set up over the years to defeat bills just like this, and bills like this all over the country. They've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars just in Alaska and millions of dollars across the country defeating bills like this. Those are some harsh statements but I believe they're 100 percent warranted. Let me tell you just how far these organizations in the chemical industry has gone over the years to defeat bills like this. To defeat this bill, in fact. Many members will remember hearings on this bill back in 2010 and 2012. We heard from a Dr. David Heimbach who testified three times in front of the legislature. He presented himself as an eminently qualified doctor. In fact, he was the former head of the Harborview Medical Center burn unit in Seattle. He told the tragic story of a six-week old baby girl whose life would have been saved had flame retardants been used in her crib. He shared pictures of burn victims. Legislators were concerned. The bill passed the Senate but it was defeated in the House. Several months later it turned out that nearly all of Dr. Heimbach's testimony was a lie. In a six-day front page spread, the Chicago Tribune dug into the stories and claims of Dr. Heimbach and found the claims and patients he had testified about across the country were, in fact, non-existent. The Alaska Dispatch News, which was then the Anchorage Daily News, did stories on the fraud Dr. Heimbach and these organizations committed against the legislature. This one dated March 19, 2014, "Washington Physician Accused of Deception Testified Three Times on Alaska Bills." This one, "Seattle Burn Doctor Accused of Dishonesty in Legislative Testimony Surrenders License." The opponents of this bill will bring up the same old tired complaints and arguments against this bill. That the EPA should regulate it. Since when does Alaska want to turn over authority to the EPA to regulate this? The EPA has had 25 years to do something on this. They've done nothing. That the presence of chemicals in furniture in and of itself is not dangerous. Hundreds of academic and scientific studies say otherwise. We've provided you with copies of numerous studies; we're happy to get you more. The chemical industry will argue that Congress is working on some legislation dealing with this. They've had decades to do this. Nothing. Further, in the legislation that is currently being proposed, states retain the right under that proposed federal legislation to continue to regulate harmful substances in their own states. Please don't buy it this time. They have a vested financial interest in killing this bill. These are dangerous chemicals that have no place in our homes. There are safer alternatives that are just as inexpensive that are available. CHAIR COSTELLO asked if this is the same bill that he introduced previously. MR. WIELECHOWSKI replied it is virtually the same. 2:25:24 PM THOMAS "TJ" PRESLEY, Staff, Senator Bill Wielechowski, sponsor of SB 111, informed the committee that he would provide a brief overview of the bill, its history, and the growing amount of literature on the danger of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) to human and animal health. Finally, he would review the substantive contents of the packet. He stated that SB 111 does two things. First, the bill prohibits the manufacture, sale, or distribution of upholstered furniture and children's items that contain more than 100 parts per million of certain harmful flame retardants. Second, it requires manufacturers to alert consumers to the presence of these chemical flame retardants by labeling the products. The bill provides civil penalties for violating this law that start small and are capped for each company in one calendar year. SB 111 also contains a definition section and exemptions for people who may sell these products from one person to another, such as on Craigslist. MR. PRESLEY reported that the sponsor has requested a committee substitute (CS), based on advice from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD), to move the penalties provision from Chapter 18 to the Consumer Protection Division within the Department of Law. Chapter 18 only directs DOLWD to inspect schools that have evidence of asbestos. MR. PRESLEY reminded the members that in 2012, Dr. Heinbach's tragic story and pictures he shared with members stopped the bill in its tracks. A few months later evidence proved that his stories were untrue and Washington State prosecuted him for fraud. As a result, he willingly surrendered his medical license. Subsequent investigative reporting established a connection between Citizens for Fire Safety that spent $230,000 to defeat the bill in 2012, Dr. Heinbach and the American Chemical Council that opposes this bill today. The former executive director for the now defunct Citizens for Fire Safety and a former employee for the American Chemical Council, Grant David Gillam, made headlines for breaking ranks after learning about payments to Dr. Heinbach. Mr. Gillam eventually testified in support of a full flame retardant ban in California that passed in 2014. MR. PRESLEY stated that Dr. Vytenis Babrauskas was the first person in the world to be awarded a Ph.D. in fire protection engineering. When he learned that his work was being used to defend the use of flame retardants, he wrote a paper titled "Flame Retardants in Furniture Foam: Benefits and Risks." The conclusion is summarized as follows: Since 1975, hundreds of millions of kilograms of pentaBDE and its replacements have been used to meet California TB117. A fire safety benefit has not been established. Research suggests that this standard should be reevaluated in light of the fire science and health information discussed above. Prior to implementing new flammability standards, decision makers should evaluate the potential fire safety benefit as well as the health and environmental impacts of the chemicals, materials, or technologies likely to be used. Special scrutiny should be given to small open-flame standards that are likely to be met by adding organohalogen flame retardants to foam or plastic in consumer products. MR. PRESLEY directed attention to the packets that contain more literature on the effects of PBDEs on human and animal health and offered to provide more if any members desired. "But suffice to say, the dangers to human health include risks of neuro developmental processes in young children being slowed or changed, passage of the dangerous chemical through the umbilical cord from mother to child, cancer, infertility, attention deficit disorders among others," he said. He said SB 111 is the start of a process to purge PBDEs from the food supply because studies have established that these chemicals are in the blood of many fish stocks. High levels of these chemicals are beginning to show in the autopsies of birds and animals that feed on these stocks. The entrance of PBDEs into the food supply is a great concern for Alaskans generally and those living a subsistence lifestyle and in rural communities in particular. 2:32:20 PM CHAIR COSTELLO asked if he wanted to comment on the short title being broader than what is in the bill. MR. PRESLEY replied the sponsor's intent is for the bill to be limited to upholstered furniture and children's items. He added that he could speak to the drafter to ensure that is reflected in the short title. CHAIR COSTELLO said she had two questions about the labeling statement on page 2, line 24. First, is the label itself an admission that the manufacturer is breaking the law? Second, how do you differentiate between a flame retardant that's listed in the bill and one that is not harmful? 2:34:10 PM MR. PRESLEY clarified that the bill does not ban PBDEs; it limits their use in upholstered furniture and children's items to less than 100 parts per million. Responding to the second question, he said evidence shows that there are safer alternatives for flame retardants that are not related to the chemical compound addressed in the bill. He added that a number of large Fortune 500 companies including Ashley Furniture, Walmart, Macys, Pier I Imports, and Ikea have pledged not to buy office furniture with these flame retardants and have begun to produce flame retardant fabrics that do not have the harmful chemicals listed in the bill. He provided information about the chemicals they are using, which are widely available in other states. CHAIR COSTELLO asked if that is why the effective date is July 2017. MR. PRESLEY explained that the delayed effective date is an attempt to give industry time to understand the bill and take action accordingly. CHAIR COSTELLO asked how the bill will affect Alaska businesses that may have affected inventory. MR. PRESLEY said he did not have that information, but would work to find out. CHAIR COSTELLO asked where the list of chemicals in Section 1 came from. MR. PRESLEY replied it was compiled in consultation with a number of scientific groups like Alaska Community Actions on Toxics. SENATOR MEYER asked if limiting the use of these chemicals through federal law had been pursued. MR. PRESLEY replied the inaction by the EPA and the federal government over the past 25 years is what prompted states to take action. He added that the U.S. Senate currently is working on the Toxic Substances Act, which allows states to apply for a waiver to enact more restrictive standards than the federal minimum. The proposed Act also allows a state to take action on a chemical while it is under study by the EPA. SENATOR MEYER asked if there have been lawsuits against the manufacturers of PBDEs. MR. PRESLEY offered to follow up with an answer. SENATOR MEYER asked if Washington State has passed a similar law. MR. PRESLEY replied a bill was introduced this session but he didn't know if it had passed. 2:39:15 PM CHAIR COSTELLO opened public testimony on SB 111. 2:39:43 PM MAUREEN SWANSON, Director, Healthy Children's Project, Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, testified in support of SB 111 reading from prepared testimony. LDA is the oldest and largest national volunteer organization advocating for children and adults with learning disabilities. We have chapters and members throughout the country, including in Alaska. We are witnessing an alarming increase in neuro developmental disorders that cannot be fully explained by changes in awareness or diagnosis. One in six children in the United States has a reported developmental disability including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other learning and developmental delays. The National Academy of Sciences has stated that environmental factors, including exposure to toxic chemicals, in combination with genetics contribute to at least one-quarter of all neuro developmental disabilities in the United States. During fetal development and early childhood the brain is especially at risk from toxic chemicals, even at extremely low exposure levels. Scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that babies and young children are regularly exposed to halogenated flame retardant chemicals including the flame retardants named in SB 111. These exposures pose an elevated risk of serious and lasting problems with learning and behavior, including ADHD and autism. These flame retardants cross the placenta to the fetus and are detected in umbilical cord blood and in breast mild. Because of their size and weight, rapid rate of growth and development, metabolism and behaviors, babies and children are likely to experience higher chronic exposures to flame retardants than adults. These chemicals migrate from furniture and children's products into dust and then are ingested by young children. A 2011 study of baby products found that 80 percent of the items tested contained flame retardant chemicals while a 2014 study of 40 daycares and preschools found toxic flame retardants in 100 percent of dust samples at the facilities. What do these constant exposures to toxic flame retardant chemicals mean to the fetus and young children? In the last five years, three public studies of hundreds of pregnant women and children have resulted in strikingly similar findings. Children more highly exposed to PBDE flame retardants prenatally, have lower IQ scores, cognitive delays, and attention problems. The decrements in IQ persist throughout the children's school years. The flame retardant chemicals named in SB 111 are structurally similar to thyroid hormones, which are essential for healthy brain development. In 2015, scientists with the Endocrine Society concluded that PBDE exposures interfere with thyroid. Recent studies of flame retardants that have replaced PBDEs show these chemicals can also disrupt thyroid hormones and pose serious risks to brain development. In plain English, the chemicals named in SB 11 change babies brains. I'd like to highlight briefly several specific examples. The chlorinated tris flame retardant chemicals are notorious. In the late 1970s, TDCPP was one of several tris flame retardants banned from use in children's pajamas because of grave risks to children's health. Instead of halting production and use of TDCPP, manufacturers instead added this toxic chemical to other children's products and to furniture. A recent study found that TDCPP was the most commonly detected flame retardant in baby products containing polyurethane foam. In 2011, scientists found that TDCPP as well as other tris flame retardants may affect brain development with similar or even greater potency than chemicals already known to be neurotoxic. Fire Master 550 is the second most commonly detected flame retardant in polyurethane foam. It's used in furniture and baby products including nursing pillows and changing pads. Two of Fire Master 550's main components, TBD and TBPH are brominated compounds that migrate from products into dust. In 2012, research implicated Fire Master 550 as an endocrine disrupting chemical with adverse effects at levels much lower than the no observable adverse effect level reported by the manufacturer. The study suggests that Fire Master 550 disrupts thyroid hormones and harms the developing brain. In conclusion, the toxic flame retardants that are named in the Toxic Free Children Act migrate from furniture and children's products into dust and are ingested by young children. They cross the placenta, build up in the body, and in breast milk. These flame retardants are structurally similar to PCB and also to thyroid hormones. These chemicals put Alaska's children at greater risk of learning and development disorders including ADHD and autism. The Learning Disabilities Association of America urges that the Senate pass the Toxic Free Children's Act to protect children's minds and bodies from these toxic flame retardants. 2:45:47 PM JENNIFER GIBBONS, Senior Director of State Government Affairs, Toy Industry Association Inc., stated that while TIA shares the sponsor's desire to ensure the safety of children, they do have concerns with the bill as drafted. TIA's preference is to have regulation at the federal level because unique state regulations are challenging for manufacturers that sell in multiple states. She said the network of existing federal regulations could address these issues. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is evaluating the use of flame retardants in children's products and whether new restrictions are warranted. She stated that toy manufacturers typically do not add flame retardants to toys, but their internal components and electronic circuit boards may contain trace amounts of flame retardants. While these components would be inaccessible to a child, she said they are critical to the safety of the product. 2:48:32 PM DAVID LEVINE, Co-founder and CEO, American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), Washington, D.C. testified in support of SB 111. This is a growing network of business organizations and companies that work to grow businesses, create new jobs, provide benefits to communities, and protect their health. He also represents companies that are committed to advancing safer chemicals in products. He said we believe it is important to pass the Toxic Free Children's Act because scientific research continues to find connections between toxic chemicals and childhood diseases. This is eroding consumer confidence and motivating companies to identify safer alternatives to these toxic chemicals. He continued: We believe it is time to take action on these products," he said. ASBC commissioned a study that found that safer chemicals are proving to be more important to growing the economy than traditional chemicals. Polling shows that 73 percent of small business owners overwhelmingly support reform and strengthening chemical legislation. Now is the time to have a predictable, consistent set of regulations that will enable business to innovate and drive growth and job creation. "As business leaders we're saying we can work together with public and private sector, create the economy of tomorrow today...in which all parents can rest assured that the only choice is a healthy one. 2:52:28 PM CURTIS THAYER, President and CEO, Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, Anchorage, Alaska, stated opposition to SB 111, but support for protecting public health and the environment. Given the interdependence of commerce in the U.S., regulatory certainty across the states is necessary, he said. While the bill is well-intended, it needlessly threatens the availability of goods and the viability of business. He pointed out that the EPA currently is assessing several flame retardants included in the bill. "At a minimum, Alaska should be informed of those scientific assessments before they pass [this] bill." 2:53:57 PM TIM SHESTEK, American Chemistry Council (ACC), testified in opposition to SB 111. He stated that ACC supports the attempt to develop a uniform regulatory system. The EPA is conducting assessments of all the flame retardants included in SB 111, as well as others, and he would encourage the committee to be informed by that information before moving to restrict any chemical compound under this legislation. He pointed out that this debate is not about whether there are organizations that do or do not support safe chemicals. "Our companies have a responsibility to produce safe products. We certainly understand that and we're a part of the effort to ensure that the products we make and their intended use are safe for consumers." He said ACC is providing as much information as possible to the EPA to help with their assessments. He noted that ACC submitted detailed testimony that touches on some of the science issues identified in the bill. CHAIR COSTELLO held SB 111 in committee with public testimony open.