Thousands of chemicals are used in consumer products and a group of public health and environmental organizations gathered in the Inner Harbor Tuesday to rally for better oversight of them.
The coalition called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families formed outside the of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel where chemical industry officials were holding a conference.
The rally also comes ahead of debate in Congress over legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, which hasn't been updated since 1976. The group wants a new law to require safety information on all chemicals used in consumer products and immediate reduction 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 that people are exposed to more than one chemical at a time.
The chemical industry, faced with action to ban chemicals in several states, has advocated for some changes to the federal law. An official from the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, which is hosting the GlobalChem conference at the Baltimore hotel along with the American Chemistry Council, said the group prefers a "risk" based approach that calls for evaluation of how hazardous chemicals are and how much consumers are exposed to them, rather than much stricter rules that could harm the whole industry and stifle innovation of new products.
Under current law, the Environmental Protection Agency has tested only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals on its roster. At the same time, the health and environmental groups say cancer, reproductive disorders, autism and other maladies linked to chemicals are rising.
Without federal action on the law, many states have worked to ban some chemicals linked to the disorders in some products, including Maryland, where the legislature just passed a bill to ban BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. The Senate also just passed a bill to phase out DecaBDE, a flame retardant.
Standing in front of a giant rubber duck, which came to symbolize toy safety after it was used in nationwide protests of phthalates in the toys, Andy Igrejas, campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said the public won't tolerate "phony" reform.
"After protests, Congress eventually banned some 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."
In addition to speakers from other groups including the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, the Environmental Defense Fund and Maryland PIRG and a professor of neonatology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, several parents came out to show support.
Patrick McMahon of Charles Village brought his son Gabriel to Pier Six for the rally. Gabriel is constantly is 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."