Saturday, September 27, 2003

Safer Alternatives: Out with the Bad, In with the Good

When workers are exposed to toxic chemicals, management's first response is often to give them respirators. But respirators -- hot, uncomfortable and often ineffective -- are the last option on the list of the industrial hygiene "hierarchy of controls."

The best way to protect workers from toxic chemicals to substitute a safer chemical for a hazardous chemical. Now there is a bill in the Massachusetts state legislature that would "replace commonly used toxic chemicals with safer alternatives."
The bill, S. 1268/H. 2275 An Act for a Healthy Massachusetts, initially targets 10 of the worst toxic chemicals found in common household products such as dry cleaning, pesticides, solvents, building materials, foam cushions, and electronics. It would mandate a careful process to evaluate alternatives to these chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives where feasible. It would also stimulate research and development on new technologies and solutions when a safer alternative is not currently feasible.


The ten chemicals targeted by this bill were chosen because there is credible evidence that they pose a threat to human health or the environment, they are widely used within Massachusetts, they are found in a range of products we use in our homes and offices and safer alternatives exist for many uses of the chemicals.
As usual, opponants of the bill are claiming that it will be too costly and drive business out of Massachusetts. But economics experts at Tufts University disagree:
"Public health and safety are not unaffordable luxuries -- it would cost the state little or nothing to begin switching to safer alternatives for several of the chemicals identified in this bill," said Frank Ackerman, PhD, Research Director for the Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University. "Furthermore, our failure to eliminate hazardous chemicals imposes huge health care costs and losses of future income."
Now if Massachusetts would just pass a law providing OSHA coverage to public employees....