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The Real Power of States

When it comes to toxic chemicals, what happens in one state can echo across the country. At first glance, it may seems surprising — how does a bill passed in Oregon affect someone living in, say, Arizona? Well, when one state acts to protect its citizens from consumer products containing toxic chemicals, it has a ripple effect — across the nation, and up and down the supply chain. Protections secured in one state lead to manufacturers reformulating their product lines for sale across the nation. And information about hidden dangers is submitted in one state, and people in another can find out what’s in their products. Manufacturers reformulate their products to be safer, and consumers throughout the nation benefit.

So it’s no surprise that the chemical industry would like to eliminate state power—because states have spent a decade driving truly powerful national changes. Just a few examples:

• All the major manufacturers of baby bottles have abandoned bisphenol-A, and safer choices like glass and steel are more widely available.
• Ashley Furniture, the nation’s top manufacturer, is eliminating added toxic flame retardant chemicals.
• Makers of baby carriers, arts & crafts supplies, children’s furniture, changing pads, bedding, and more have moved to reformulate their products after Washington State began requiring them to track and report toxic chemicals.
• Johnson & Johnson, CVS, Babies R Us, S.C. Johnson and others have recently adopted new policies to eliminate toxics from their supply chains—many of them include toxics identified as priorities in state laws.

The common thread in these changes? They were driven by state policy. State laws have time and again preceded voluntary changes. But you don’t have to take our word for it.

In Bed, Bath & Beyond’s vendor guide, for example, they prohibit the chemical triclosan in soap, starting in 2016. Why? Because “at least one state has enacted legislation prohibiting the use.” That’s right: the policy explicitly takes action to eliminate triclosan nationwide because Minnesota law led the way. Store guides, industry presentations, and risk management consultants all tell the same story — state action shapes the market for the better. States listen to their citizens, and have a strong track record when it comes to protecting them.

So it’s critical that states can continue this strong and safe legacy. Unfortunately proposed federal policy will hamstring state work. Several governors and attorneys general have voiced their own concerns about state pre-emption in current bills. Any policy moving forward must retain the ability of states to protect their citizens and by extension citizens across the nation.

State action isn’t scatter-shot: it’s a powerful force that affects change nationwide. And we need that power working in harmony with federal law for the best interest of our health, environment and economy well into the future.

That’s why Safer States has been working so hard—in partnership with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families — to insist on changes to U.S. Senate and House reform bills so that states can stay true to their public health responsibilities. Do you agree? Then add your voice!

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