by Margot White Thursday, February 19
Anne Hulick above addressing CT State Legislature
If you think nothing is being done about toxins in consumer products, think again. Anne Hulick, RN, MS, JD, is the Connecticut Co-Director for Clean Water Action and the Coordinator for the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut. The focus of Anne's current campaign is two-fold: (1) Promoting legislation (HB 5653) that would require the Dept. of Public Health to identify chemicals of high concern to children based on toxicity and exposure hazard, and (2) Raising awareness of the impact that exposure to toxic chemicals has on our health and the environment. Prior to joining Clean Water Action, Anne worked as an environmental analyst in the Air Bureau at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and was the Environmental Health Coordinator at the CT Nurses' Association. She has written and lectured extensively on environmental health topics, particularly on the health impacts associated with exposure to chemicals. We are very fortunate to have Anne's expertise and commitment fighting for our right to clean and toxic-free products.
We recently had the privilege to sit down with Anne and here is what we learned…
1. Your background in nursing and law gives you a unique insight into the health and environmental concerns that we are facing today. What inspired you to transition from your nursing career to law?
I love being a nurse and worked for over 20 years in critical care and nursing administration, but I always felt that while we do a good job of taking care of people when they are ill, we don't do a good job of actually preventing disease or even connecting how our treatment of the environment affects our health. I had a very strong desire to move into health policy work and after a lot of research, thought a law degree would be very useful.
2. What are the current priorities of Clean Water Action and The Coalition for a Safe and Healthy CT?
Our current priorities are to continue to work with state leaders to identify the most harmful chemicals in products, those that pose the greatest health risk and to take meaningful steps to reduce exposure. One of our big concerns is a group of chemicals known as "flame retardants". These chemicals are extremely toxic, found in almost all products that contain polyurethane foam--including our couches and baby's mattresses---and ironically, they do not provide any significant fire safety benefit. Rather, they off-gas from the product, get into the air and dust and are inhaled and ingested. Very high levels have been found in young children as they are often laying on these surfaces and have a lot of hand/mouth behavior. They are linked to learning and behavioral disorders, hormone disruption and cancers. We are working on a number of fronts to try to reduce the use of these chemicals.
3. What are the biggest obstacles you face?
Unfortunately, we face very stiff opposition from the Chemical industry and the Toy Industry.
Our meeting with Anne Hulick at the office of Clean Water Action, Hartford CT. Pictured L to R: Anne, Margot (aka The Choosy Chick), Aya Beckles Swanson - The Community Investment Corporation
4. You worked so hard on the CT Bill SB-126 which would have given citizens information about toxins in consumer products. Can you tell us more about that bill and explain why it was tabled? Are there plans in the future to revive it?
This was extremely disappointing. The bill would have required the Department of Public Health to identify chemicals of concern in products, to make that information available to consumers and then to provide recommendations to the Legislature every two years for action. Recommended actions could have been a ban of certain chemicals in products (ie. flame retardants in a baby's mattress) or labeling or a shift to a safer alternative. So the bill was simply providing CT citizens with information and the policy makers with science based recommendations. The Department of Public Health was fully on board but the industry lobbyists fought very hard against it. We are talking with legislators now about possible next steps.
Note: HB 5653 is one of the "next steps".
5. What can people do to help get bills like this passed?
We need more people to join us, to create an even larger groundswell of concerned groups and citizens that are willing to call their legislators and urge them to support these types of initiatives, like banning BPA from baby bottles. We believe consumers have a right to know if toxic chemicals are in products and want to know. People can follow us on facebook too. We always provide tools, talking points and help, so it is really easy to make that call or send an email to lawmakers or the Governor. That's what it will take to overcome the opposition and I know that together, we can do it!
6. What is the status of The Toxic Substance Control Act - If it excludes food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides, does this act actually protect people?
Great question. The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) was designed to cover chemicals in consumer products and be regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Food and drugs are regulated by the Federal Drug Administration--under different laws. Pesticides are also regulated under a separate law.
Unfortunately, the way TSCA was written, it is completely inadequate and there is general consensus that it needs to be reformed. However, as you might suspect, the chemical industry is fighting that too. That is why we work so hard at the state level. If we can pass more health protective laws here in CT, that is good for CT residents and it actually helps push federal reform of TSCA.
7. Regulations regarding the safety of chemicals in this country are lax when compared to those in Europe. How did this happen? What can the average person do to help correct this situation?
The European Union has a much more progressive and precautionary approach to chemicals in consumer products than we do in the U.S. They passed a broad law in 2007 that listed chemicals of concern and then banned the use of the most toxic chemicals from certain products. They also now require manufacturers to prove that new chemicals are safe before they can be used in products and they continue to phase out the use of toxic chemicals as each year passes. So many products that legally contain toxic chemicals sold here in the U.S. would not be allowed in the EU.
I think the best way for people to help change this is to join groups like our Coalition and get informed. Then, use our on-line tools to demand change. I find that once people are informed about the different standards, they want to get involved!
8. Once people discover there are toxins in their products, how should they dispose of them safely?
That is a tough question as well. The best thing is to begin to purchase items that don't have harmful chemicals. That is why we LOVE The Choosy Chick--because you help people to do just that. By making small changes, you can really reduce exposure. The second thing is to recycle as much as you can. Unfortunately, many of the products that we're talking about here are not recyclable and do get into our waste stream. For example, we now know that the flame retardant chemicals get into the environment from our household laundry water! This is another reason why we need to push for safer alternatives.
See Anne in action discussing the dangers of flame retardants on Connecticut TV