A bill that would outlaw two Tris chemicals used as flame retardants in consumer products died when the Washington Legislature’s regular session ended Sunday. But Democratic Sen. Sharon Nelson of Maury Island said she is working to revive a stronger measure than business groups and the chemical industry wanted.
A special session of the Legislature starts May 13 to complete a two-year budget and Nelson said Tuesday: “I’m going to be pushing it.”
Her Republican counterpart, Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, said he also wants to pass a flame-retardants bill that is less sweeping while waiting to see what emerges from reviews of the industry’s chemicals by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
At issue is how far the Evergreen State should go in banning chemicals after a landmark 2008 phased out the use of toxic PBDE’s in children’s products. Under Washington law, a review process is already set up in the state Department of Ecology to identify high-concern chemicals, but the agency lacks authority to bar use of problem chemicals, which environmental activists have made a high priority to pass as new harmful chemicals are brought in to replace those that are phased out.
The Washington Toxics Coalition and other environmental advocates say the two Tris chemicals now being targeted were brought into use as flame retardants in upholstered furnishings after the 2008 legislation, describing such substitution as a “toxics treadmill” that never rids products of harmful effects.
House Bill 1294, as approved by the House, would have given Ecology authority to do rule-making and ban high-concern chemicals as they landed on the hazard list. But Senate Republicans removed that authority when they amended the bill and sent it back to the House. Majority Democrats in the House refused to accept the changes.
Ironically the GOP’s approach would have gone farther than any other state’s law in banning two flame retardants known by the chemical name Tris. But Nelson said it does not do enough to keep harmful chemicals, some of them carcinogenic and others having hormonal effects, out of children’s products.
In an effort to compromise over the weekend, Nelson said she offered an approach that would:
Ban the two Tris chemicals and 4 others that are flame retardants on the current list of chemicals of high concern at Ecology from use in children’s products and upholstered furniture.
Allow casual sales, ie by nonprofits or a garage sale, to be exempt.
Allow Ecology to request a certificate of compliance if there is a report that a manufacturer is not following the ban.
Ban goes into place in 2015, allowing manufacturers time to switch to alternatives.
“The European Union is years ahead of us in their requirements and, thus, manufacturers can meet these standards,” Nelson said.
Ericksen said the state’s list of high-concern chemicals already includes four used in flame retardants and these are targeted by Nelson’s compromise. Her proposal also leaves open the possibility that other chemicals will be added to the list by July 2015, which would subject them also to a ban.
Ericksen said he does not want to give the Department of Ecology that implied power. “That does not work. It would not be a good delegation of authority,’’ he said.
The Association of Washington Business has said it favors an outright ban on use of one Tris compound known as TCEP and a phase-out for another known as TDCPP, giving industry time for replacements. But it has opposed adding to the regulatory reach of Ecology or the Department of Health.
“Our position on the TRS bill remains unchanged,” AWB spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe said in an email earlier this month. “AWB supports a ban on the two TRS chemicals but cannot support an expansion of the ban at this time. We would prefer for the EPA and state Department of Ecology to complete their respective review processes of the existing chemicals and then revisit any changes or additions to the list.”
Nelson said that despite wanting a compromise that is stronger than the Senate’s plan only to ban two Tris chemicals, she is not willing to trade that for a Republican-backed bill that, she believes, weakens controls on payday lending.
“Sen. (Don) Benton has said he wants his payday bill. If I’m asked to take one for the other … I will continue to fight – for one and against the other,’’ Nelson said.
After session adjourned, Nelson put out a press release that blasted the opposition:
“A reasonable compromise could have been had that would have protected babies and children from unnecessary exposure to harmful flame retardants. Democrats offered a commonsense proposal to eliminate toxic chemicals from crib mattresses, changing pads, car seats and other everyday children’s products that almost all parents bring into their homes after having a child. But rather than accept this commonsense compromise, the Republican-controlled Senate preferred instead to placate the American Chemistry Council and put corporate interests ahead of children’s health.”
Ericksen said Nelson’s release doesn’t help them reach an agreement. He suggested that she is more interested – in her role as a leader of the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee – in scoring political points.
“Basically she is making things up. She is being a campaigner, not a senator. Unfortunately she has chosen to put campaigns ahead of good policy in the Senate,’’ Ericksen said. “I wouldn’t be saying this if I didn’t have to defend myself from Sharon Nelson’s press release.’’