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New study finds regulations reduce levels of chemicals in our bodies

It was back in 2008 when I was sitting in a café, not to far from the Minnesota state capitol that I heard about the veto. Governor Tim Pawlenty had just vetoed two bills our coalition hard worked hard to garner bi-partisan support for.

One of the bills he vetoed was a ban on certain types of phthalates in children’s products. These chemicals had come under scrutiny for their serious health effects and were found widely in children’s products.

(Photo Credit: Tarnal Berry, Flickr)

We were crushed. Parents across the state were disappointed. We had gotten across the finish line, past both houses and with the stroke of a red pen, those protections from toxic chemicals for Minnesota families had vanished.

Just a few months later some good news came along. In part due to the intense state level action on phthalates, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which regulated certain phthalates and lead in children’s products.

Even better news came yesterday when a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that the same phthalates Congress regulated, have decreased in the American population. The study cited regulations and campaigns like ours as a potential reason for the decline in exposure to these toxic chemicals.

Here’s the catch – the study also found that other phthalates, ones who’s health effects are less understood, have risen in U.S. populations. So while there is good news (we know that regulating toxic chemicals works to reduce exposure) the bad news is manufacturers may be substituting other, less studied, phthalates in the products.

We like to call this the “toxic treadmill.”

When one chemical is restricted or eliminated from the supply chain, another less known or equally harmful toxic chemical is used as the replacement. We’ve seen this with toxic flame retardants in furniture, receipt paper switching from BPA to BPS, and here in the case of phthalates.  For a great chart on how much phthalate exposures have dropped or risen, check out this summary here.

The underlying solution to our toxic chemical problem is comprehensive reform of our federal laws. At the end of the day we won’t be able to get off this toxic treadmill without health and safety information on chemical hazards (which in this case helps us understand the phthalates that are rising in U.S. populations) and relives this problem of substituting chemicals for equally toxic or less studied substances.

Despite the veto, our work in Minnesota did not go to waste. State legislatures continue to drive the federal conversation around chemical reform. State legislatures are revving up for another session where states will continue to pass their own laws on toxic chemicals.

Meanwhile we’re educating Congress on the importance of getting comprehensive reform done right. The bill before the Senate, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, as drafted, would do very little to solve the problem about limited health information on the set of phthalates that are rising.

If there’s one thing I take from this week’s new scientific study, it’s that we’re fighting the right fight. When regulations on toxic chemicals take place, our exposure to those harmful chemicals falls.

That is after all, the whole point.

For a statement from Campaign Director Andy Igrejas on yesterday’s study click here.