Key New York Bills to Reduce Toxic Chemicals

The new New York legislature has made an auspicious start on addressing threats to public health from toxic chemicals in everyday life. 

CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade

It has passed a key bill concerning toxic chemicals in children’s products that is now before the Governor. The Legislature also passed a bill phasing out the use of the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos. That too is before the Governor.

The Legislature is further considering two bills that could help protect New Yorkers from toxic and forever “Teflon” chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS) in firefighting foam and food packaging. A bill to require disclosure of ingredients in personal care products is also before the Legislature. Finally, a bill to ban the unnecessary use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in various household products has been introduced.

The bills continue to face opposition from the powerful chemical industry, which has a history of trying to mislead the public and deny the science and of throwing money and influence at issues to defeat bills that would advance public health but would hurt the industry’s bottom line. The Governor and the Legislature should prioritize public health and treat industry claims with care.

We urge the Governor to sign the Child Safe Products Act with clarifying amendments and the legislature to pass the PFAS and personal care product bills before the end of the 2019 legislative session.

Bills Before the Governor

Child Safe Products Act (S.501B/A.6296A)

The bill requires manufacturers to report the presence of various chemicals of concern in children’s products to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). It also phases out the use of six dangerous chemicals or chemical classes well known to be harmful to health in children’s products, such as asbestos and formaldehyde. Finally, it gives DEC the authority to add to either list based on appropriate evidence.

The governor should sign the bill to protect children’s health. It would immediately put New York at the forefront of efforts to protect the public from toxic chemicals, especially at a time that the federal government is actively undermining laws that protect people against toxic chemicals.

Enactment of the law would align New York with other leaders on this issue. Washington and Maine have both enacted laws that require reporting of the presence of chemicals of concern in children’s products. Maine’s law also authorizes regulatory action on chemicals prioritized by the government agency implementing the law. Washington also limits the use of certain prioritized chemicals. California requires disclosure of reproductive toxicants and carcinogens in all products sold in the state, and recently passed a ban on a broad group of toxic flame retardants in many children’s products covered by the NY bill.

Chlorpyrifos (A.2477B /S.5343)

Chlorpyrifos is a dangerous pesticide that poisons agricultural communities and leaves residues on food that contribute to serious health risks. Studies conducted in New York and in other states over the last two decades have shown that exposure to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy and early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ, developmental delay, and ADHD.

The U.S. EPA has found that every use of this pesticide — on food crops, golf courses, and elsewhere — results in unsafe levels of exposure, even when users comply with the directions on pesticide labels and wear personal protective equipment. Yet the Trump administration disregarded the science and, in 2017, reversed plans to finalize a ban. In the face of federal inaction, the NY legislature has passed a bill that would ban the use of this dangerous pesticide. The Governor should sign the bill and put the weight of New York behind pushing back on the Trump Administration. NY could have a huge impact, becoming the second state (after Hawaii) and the biggest to phase out chlorpyrifos use. California has unveiled plans to ban chlorpyrifos, but final action is likely to take some time.

Bills Before the Legislature

PFAS in Firefighting Foam (A.445) and Food Packaging (S.2000a/A.4739a)

Scientists and health officials around the world have expressed concern about this growing class of synthetic “Teflon” chemicals for several reasons: 1) they are extremely persistent, in other words, they are “forever”; 2) they are highly mobile and can spread through our environment easily; and 3) the PFAS that have been studied are associated with a wide variety of adverse health effects, including cancer, harm to developing fetuses, infants and children, immune system disruption, and many more.

PFAS contaminates drinking water around the country, including the public water systems that serve close to 2 million people in NY.  In 2016, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, via an emergency rule, declared foam containing PFAS a hazardous substance.

A.445 would ban the use of PFAS in firefighting foam for training purposes where their use is not necessary. It would also ban the sale and distribution in New York of firefighting foam containing PFAS unless it is required for oil refineries or chemical plants or where it is required by federal law. In addition, it would require notification of the presence of PFAS in the protective equipment of firefighters. The Trump Administration is MIA on PFAS. But Washington, Colorado, and Minnesota have already enacted similar laws. Alternatives are available and in use. London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the largest in the world, and other airports have already successfully transitioned to non-PFAS firefighting foam. The bill has passed the Senate and is now before the Assembly.

S.2000a/A.4739a would ban the use of PFAS to produce certain food packaging (made from paper, paperboard, and other plant-derived materials) sold in New York. Washington has enacted a similar ban. The bill would protect NY consumers from exposure via food packaging and from environmental release of PFAS from the food packaging.

New York would be the largest state to act on PFAS in these products and could significantly advance the issue in the national conversation. The Legislature should pass both bills.

Personal Care Products (S.6077/A.7978)

People might be surprised to know that not all ingredients in personal care products have to be disclosed. Consumers have a right to know what they are bringing into their homes and putting on their bodies.

This bill would require the personal care product manufacturers to disclose the ingredients in their products and their potential health effects to the Department of Environmental Conservation, to help inform and protect New Yorkers who use these products every day and drive safer alternatives. It would also ban certain harmful chemicals from personal care products such as lead and mercury. This is a strong bill that would advance consumer protections. The Legislature should pass the bill and send it to the Governor’s desk.

Banning Toxic Flame Retardant Chemicals in Various Household Products (bill number pending)

Assemblyman Englebright is introducing a bill that would ban toxic flame retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture and mattress foam. Studies show the use of these toxic chemicals does not provide improved fire protection and creates unnecessary exposures. The chemicals are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects from cancer to learning disabilities, reproductive harm, and hormone disruption.

The bill would also follow the guidance of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and ban organohalogen flame retardants in the plastic casings surrounding electronics. The EU has proposed a similar ban on organohalogen flame retardants in the plastic casings and stands of electronic displays. Organohalogens are the best studied flame retardants, the adverse health effects of which are particularly well documented. Electronics have been shown to have high levels of multiple organohalogen flame retardants.

California has already banned a broad range of toxic flame retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture and mattress foam (and all parts of children’s mattresses). Maine, Anchorage, and San Francisco have equally strong restrictions on upholstered furniture and children’s products and other states have banned some flame retardants in these products. NY would add a major East Coast voice on the issue and help drive out the unnecessary use of these chemicals. It would also be the first state to act on flame retardants in electronics.

The legislature should move this bill forward with all speed to protect public health from these unnecessary exposures.

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.

About the Authors

Avinash Kar

Senior Attorney, Sustainable Agriculture and Antibiotics and Western Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.