Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals

House Bill/Senate Bill 553: Safe Alternatives to Toxics Chemicals Bill

Sponsors: Senator Steven Tolman, Representative Jay Kaufman


Protecting Worker and Public Health:

Scientific evidence increasingly indicates that many toxic chemicals at work and at home are contributing to an epidemic of disease, including: asthma, birth defects, cancers, developmental disabilities, diabetes, endometriosis, infertility, Parkinson's disease, and others.

More than 80,000 synthetic chemicals have been produced for use in the U.S since World War II. Yet very few of these have ever been adequately tested for their potential impact on our health. OSHA regulates a relative handful of these chemicals, regulations that assume an "acceptable risk" level for worker exposure.

The good news is that many toxic chemicals can be replaced with safer alternatives. This bill creates a program to promote these alternatives while protecting the health and jobs of workers.

Developing a Healthy Economy:

Choosing safer alternatives will prevent work related illnesses and lost productivity. It will also reduce the economic burden from preventable health care and special education costs. Innovative industries and green chemistry can create safer products and good-quality, long-term jobs that are needed in Massachusetts, and which are increasingly in demand in today's economy. The European Union and other countries are ahead of the U.S. adopting more health protective requirements for products. Currently 37 % of Massachusetts trade is with the European Union's member states. The Safer Alternatives program will assist Massachusetts businesses in competing in the global marketplace. It also gives workers a voice in implementing a plan for safer alternatives.

What the bill does:

Expands TURA: The bill expands the successful Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) program, which has demonstrated that reducing the use of toxic chemicals both protects health and saves businesses money. It builds upon TURA's approach to helping our local industries by creating a comprehensive program to replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives in consumer products and manufacturing processes. It initially targets ten widely used toxic chemicals in Massachusetts – chemicals that are currently replaceable with feasible safer alternatives for many uses. It provides technical and financial assistance to workers and businesses to support implementation of safer alternatives.

Creates a Flexible and Pragmatic Program: First an analysis is done to determine each chemical's general type of use, (i.e. a type of industrial use or consumer product) and its feasible safer alternatives. Then there are flexible choices:

  • If there are feasible safer alternatives, businesses develop their own substitution plans and can either a) certify they are using a safer alternative; b) propose a different safer alternative, (subject to review); or c) apply for a waiver showing that there is no safer alternative that is technically or economically feasible for that use. Unions/workers have input on the plan through mandated seats on the Oversight Board.
  • If there are not feasible safer alternatives, state agencies create research and development plans, but do not take regulatory action on that product or use.

The ten toxic chemicals that will be initially addressed by the bill are: Lead, Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Perchloroethylene, Dioxins and Furans, Hexavalent chromium, Organophosphate pesticides, Pentabromodiphenyl ether (Penta BDE), di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), and 2,4,Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4, D)

Bill Improvements From Last Session:

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO and six Central Labor Councils endorsed this bill during the 2003-2004 session. The bill sponsors and AHT Board of Directors listened to the suggestions of unions and legislators over the past two years. We have strengthened the bill based on your ideas:

  • Increased union representation on the "Safer Alternatives Oversight Board," which will oversee the study of the feasibility of substituting less toxic chemical products and the potential impact on workers..
  • Expanded the "Just Transitions" Program to provide a range of support to workers and unions to implement safer alternatives while preventing job loss or dislocation.
  • Incorporated a right of private action, so that unions can file directly with the Commonwealth for enforcement action against companies that violate the law (helping to preserve a level playing field between union and non-union companies and contractors).
  • Added an Innovative Industries Investment Plan designed to encourage job creation.