Alternatives to toxic chemicals

07/27/2006
By From the Arlington Advocate

Safer alternatives to five widely used chemicals are available to protect the public from exposure to these toxins and could save industry money, according to environmental leaders who helped release a state-funded chemical alternative study last week.

    In July 2005, the commonwealth of Massachusetts funded the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell to study safer alternatives for major uses of five toxic chemicals. On July 11, scientists, lawmakers and environmental health advocates gathered at the State House to discuss the results of the Five Chemicals Alternatives Assessment Study.
    The study identified safer alternatives to major uses of five widely used toxic chemicals. For example, Perchloroethylene, "perc," used in dry cleaning could be replaced with several commercially available alternatives including a water-based cleaning process appropriate for most types of clothing.
    "Now it's time to move from study to action," said Lee Ketelsen, Clean Water Action New England Director. "Safer Alternatives are feasible for use now. Unnecessary harm is being done to the health of workers, consumers and children when common sense would dictate that we should avoid toxic chemical use whenever possible."
    Legislative sponsors of the Five Chemicals Study and the advocates from the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, a statewide coalition working to protect public health from toxic hazards, proposed the study to demonstrate that replacing toxic chemicals with safer alternatives is a feasible way to prevent unnecessary health damage. Toxic chemicals are contributing to an epidemic of chronic diseases and disorders, including cancer, learning disabilities, asthma, birth defects and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's.
    "We overrode a veto by Governor Romney in 2005 and authorized funding for this study because we saw the need to prevent health damage caused by toxic chemicals," said Rep. Jay Kaufman, D-Lexington, who represents Precincts 14, 17, 20 and 21 in Arlington. "Now we have proof that it is indeed possible to find feasible safer alternatives to many of the most dangerous and commonly used toxic chemicals. The next step is to help businesses move toward the use of these safer products, protecting health and promoting innovation in the economy."
    The co-chairs of the Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture praised the report.
    "We are so pleased with the results of this study because they prove what we have suspected all along: safer alternatives to dangerous chemicals are available, practical and feasible," said Sen. Pam Resor, D-Acton, Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture.
    "This report is an outstanding example of the work government, industry and advocates can accomplish together to remove dangerous toxins from our everyday lives," said Rep. Frank Smizik, D-Brookline, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture. "As an individual who suffers from allergies and asthma, I am hopeful that the findings in this report will be used by businesses and industries to use those chemicals that will maintain a safer, cleaner and healthier commonwealth."
    The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow celebrates the TURI study as a first step in a public campaign to win greater protection against toxic chemicals. Advocates called on lawmakers to pass legislation filed by Kaufman and Sen. Steven Tolman, An Act for a Healthy Massachusetts: Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals (H-1286, S-553), which would build on this study and create an on-going state program to require businesses to adopt feasible safer alternatives to toxic chemicals and provide assistance and incentives to do so.
    The Safer Alternatives Bill would replace commonly used toxic chemicals in household products, such as dry cleaning fluids, pesticides, solvents, building materials, foam cushions and electronics, with safer alternatives where feasible. When a safer alternative is not currently available, the bill would stimulate research and development into new technologies and solutions.
    The bill enjoys support of many labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, for the protection it will provide against workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals.
    In a survey of more than 25 local unions conducted by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), it was clear that workers want information about safer alternatives to chemicals and welcome this approach to making their workplaces healthy and safe.
    "The few workplace standards we have assume and accept chemical risk." said Tolle Graham of MassCOSH. "We can do better for working people and their families."
    Advocates applauded TURI for its research on identifying safer alternatives and heralded the study as a clear demonstration that dangerous toxic chemicals are unnecessary threats to public health.
    "It doesn't make sense to continue using dangerous toxic chemicals when there are safer alternatives available," said Ketelsen. "This unnecessary danger will continue until we pass the Safer Alternatives Bill and to create safe products and safe workplaces."
    Submitted by Rep. Jay Kaufman's office