Thousands of chemicals are used in consumer products, and a group of public health and environmental organizations gathered at the Inner Harbor on Tuesday to rally for better oversight of them.
A coalition called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families formed outside an Inner Harbor hotel where chemical industry officials were holding a conference.
The rally comes ahead of debate in Congress over legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, which has not been updated since 1976. The coalition wants a new law to require safety information on all chemicals used in consumer products and immediately reduce use of the most dangerous chemicals. The group also wants the law to incorporate "real world" analysis of chemical exposure to inform safety decisions, which means considering all chemical exposure.
The chemical industry, faced with action to ban certain chemicals in several states, has agreed that changes are needed at the federal level. The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, which is hosting the GlobalChem conference in Baltimore along with the American Chemistry Council, has said the industry groups prefer a risk-based approach in which chemicals are evaluated based on how hazardous they are and how much consumers are exposed to them, and then take action on them, rather than stricter rules that it said could harm the industry and stifle innovation.
"We recognize that more can be done to harness the advances made in science and technology over the past three decades," the groups said in a statement Tuesday. "We are committed to developing a new comprehensive chemical management law that puts the safety of the American consumer first, while ensuring the innovation that will lead to the development of essential new consumer products and high-paying American jobs."
To start, the industry groups invited Richard Denison, a senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, to speak at their conference. He told the audience that "the public won't be satisfied if the [ Environmental Protection Agency] isn't able to act on the most dangerous chemicals."
Under current law, the EPA has tested a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals on its roster. It has banned one chemical and taken limited action on four others, Denison said. Illnesses linked to chemicals, such as cancer, reproductive disorders and autism are rising, the health groups said.
Many states have worked to ban chemicals in some products, including Maryland, where the legislature joined four other states in recently passing a bill to ban BPA in baby bottles and infant cups. The Senate also just passed a bill to phase out a flame retardant called DecaBDE.
Standing in front of a giant inflatable duck, which came to symbolize toy safety after it was used in nationwide protests of phthalates in toys, speakers, including Andy Igrejas, campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said the public won't tolerate "phony" reform.
"After protests, Congress eventually banned phthalates in toys," he said. "But phthalates are the tip of the iceberg. ... Parents are getting angry. States are passing laws and Congress is looking at reform."
Several other groups, including the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and Maryland PIRG, and several parents came to show support.
Patrick McMahon of Charles Village brought his son, Gabriel, to Pier Six for the rally. Gabriel is constantly putting toys in his mouth, he said.
"I have to trust that regulators and companies producing the toys know kids put toys in their mouths and they'll do the right thing," he said. "I sometimes get less sure that's the case."