Sound chemical policies benefit small businesses: Small business voices needed

More small businesses are adding their voices to a growing coalition concerned about sustainable and safe businesses practices, and safe food and products for their employees, customers and families.

What small businesses say: Nine out of 10 small businesses surveyed by the American Sustainable Business Council believe that chemical manufacturers should be held responsible for ensuring that chemicals they use are safe and 94 percent support disclosure of potentially harmful chemicals used in products. Additionally, the survey found that 87 percent of small businesses think government regulations should ensure that chemicals used in growing food are safe and 73 percent support government regulation to assure that consumer products are free of toxins.

The challenge: The federal regulation of industrial chemicals through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is ineffective in controlling the more than 80,000 chemicals used in commerce today. Over its 35-year history, only five chemicals have been restricted under TSCA and the EPA has required testing on only 200 chemicals. TSCA is so weak the EPA could not even regulate asbestos, despite 10 years of rulemaking.

Given the lack of federal control on the use of these chemicals, states have taken action to restrict the use of certain chemicals to protect public health and the environment. Over the past few years the Minnesota legislature has taken steps to address this growing problem through restrictions on uses of bisphenol A, lead, cadmium, mercury, brominated flame retardants and formaldehyde. In addition, Minnesota passed the Toxic Free Kids Act of 2009, which required the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to develop a list of problem chemicals. MDH has developed a list of 1,700 chemicals of high concern for effects on human health and the environment and a list of nine priority chemicals that are used in children’s products. However, currently there are no requirements for manufacturers to report the presence of priority chemicals in children’s products or to disclose that information to consumers.

The benefit: Effective chemical regulation creates a more competitive, innovative and economically viable chemical industry in the U.S. Downstream businesses, both small and large, can benefit from chemical reporting and disclosure including better supply chain management to assure that chemicals used in products are free of toxic chemicals, reduced costs and liabilities, better worker protections, a more level playing field for companies making and using greener chemicals, and increased consumer and investor confidence. It also provides business opportunities for innovation in safer chemistry, such as those being developed by Minnesota companies like BioAmber, Segetis, Reluceo and others.

Stronger chemical regulation can also benefit the thousands of small business that are not directly involved in producing or selling consumer goods, through creating healthier communities and improved quality of life. Protecting our health and our environment from unnecessary use of toxic chemicals also reinforces the values of social and environmental responsibility held by many small business owners.

The voice of “industry” at our state capitols and in Congress is usually the voice of big businesses and the organizations representing big business, like the Chamber of Commerce, who generally say chemical regulation is bad for business. Policymakers rarely hear from the hundred-of-thousands of diverse business owners who could benefit from stronger chemical regulation and improved health and environmental quality.

Join in: Policymakers need to also hear from manufacturers and retailers dedicated to making and selling safer products, green chemistry businesses, and the thousands of small businesses across Minnesota. One opportunity is available this legislative session in support of the Toxic Free Kids Act, a bill that requires manufacturers to report of they have any of nine priority toxic chemicals in their children’s products. If you’re interested in getting involved to support this bill. Contact Kathleen Schuler, MPH, program director Healthy Legacy, Conservation Minnesota. Phone (612) 767-2444