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Science, Ethics and Action in the Public Interest
Alternatives to Some Toxic Chemicals Have Lower Cost, Study
Study finds toxic chemicals more expensive
By Jon Brodkin/ Daily News Staff
Metro West Daily News (MA), Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Proponents of legislation to phase out the use of lead and nine other chemicals in consumer products hailed a state-funded study that found industry could replace hazardous chemicals with cheaper alternatives.
The Legislature had provided $250,000 to the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) to determine whether it would be economically feasible to require manufacturers to stop using the chemicals.
Advocates for chemical limitations yesterday said the new study refutes industry claims that there are no alternatives. The chemicals are used in a range of products including bullets, fishing sinkers, cables, cosmetics and dry cleaning solvents.
"The biggest opposition we were running into was the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and other companies saying you can't prove safer alternatives are available," said Leise Jones, toxics campaign organizer for the advocacy group Clean Water Action.
The chemicals examined in the study are lead, formaldehyde, PCE (perchloroethylene), hexavalent chromium, and a chemical known as DEHP that gives flexibility to rigid plastics. All five are classified as "probable" or "known" causes of cancer by the U.S. government or International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The bill phasing out the use of these five chemicals and five others will be refiled in December and discussed in public hearings as early as February, said Sen. Pamela Resor, D-Acton, co-chairwoman of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
Resor said the bill would "reduce exposure to both the workers in industrial plants as well as to the general population."
Instead of banning chemicals immediately, the legislation requires the Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether some or all uses of these chemicals could be replaced with "feasible" alternatives. That process would be followed by prohibitions of chemicals, but not necessarily for all uses.
"We recognize there may be some areas where there may be no alternatives," Resor said.
According to the state-mandated study, lead is commonly used in firing range ammunition, fishing sinkers, automobile wheel weights and as heat stabilizers in polyvinyl chloride wire and cable coatings.
Formaldehyde is used in resins, lawn fertilizers, cosmetics, disinfectants, and in a sanitizer used in barber shop and cosmetology storage drawers.
PCE is used primarily as a solvent in dry cleaning and industrial degreasing. It is one of many chemicals that landed the U.S. Army Labs in Natick on the Superfund list due to pollution of Lake Cochituate.
The TURI report identified safer alternatives to all five chemicals. The report said some alternatives are more expensive up front but result in long term savings.
The Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a business lobby group, said it had no objection to TURI's findings, but opposes any law requiring businesses to phase out the use of any chemicals.
When businesses deal in high volumes, small price advantages can be the difference between profit and loss, said Robert Rio, the group's vice president of environmental policy.
"We do not like legislative bans and mandates, because it doesn't take into account the ability of people to pay for it," Rio said. "The world is so competitive today that a cent or half a cent can put somebody out of business."
The Gun Owners' Action League of Northborough said switching to chemicals that seem safe can sometimes backfire. Executive Director Jim Wallace noted that Camp Edwards in Massachusetts switched from lead to tungsten bullets in the late 1990s, just before federal officials began investigating whether tungsten was causing childhood leukemia.
"Just look what happened at the military reservation, where they made the quick decision to move from lead to tungsten and found out that tungsten was worse than lead," Wallace said.
No definitive link between tungsten and leukemia was established. The TURI report classifies tungsten as one of five safer alternatives that could be used for bullets instead of lead.
Jon Brodkin can be reached at 508-626-4424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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