As a mother, the safety and wellbeing of my child is my top priority, which is why what I learned in a conversation I had last year shocked me into action.
Did you know that right now it is totally and completely legal to include a particularly toxic group of chemicals in products meant for our children? In fact, there is a class of over 9,000 chemicals that can be found in everything from blankets, teething toys and crib pads to car seats – chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems including cancer, hormone disruption, kidney issues, liver damage and thyroid disease. These chemicals are called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS, and I’m determined to keep them out of our children’s products.
Though I certainly follow environmental policy pretty closely even I was stunned to learn of the prevalence of toxic PFAS chemicals in juvenile products, a fact that was brought to me by the environmental research and advocacy nonprofit the Environmental Working Group. In response, I put forward AB 652, a measure sponsored by the Environmental Working Group that would prohibit the sale of many juvenile products made with intentionally added PFAS chemicals.
Well-researched studies indicate that health effects are occurring at common exposure levels in the general population. Through its Safer Consumer Products program, the California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control has stated that the identified health hazards of PFAS are very real. Several studies have reported the adverse effects of PFAS on children’s health include learning disabilities, dyslipidemia, lowered immunity and even renal issues. They concluded that PFAS chemicals need to be removed from certain products as their presence in some goods can lead to exposure through skin absorption, dust ingestion or inhalation.
So if they’re this dangerous why do we use them at all?
Most commonly these chemicals are put into and onto products so that they can be marketed as “stain and water resistant.” In most cases, they have little to do with the actual function of the product itself. Since the PFAS chemicals are not essential for these juvenile products to be used, our children are being exposed to these chemicals for no good reason.
There are areas where we’ve already prohibited the use of PFAS and other dangerous chemicals. Just last year, Gov. Newsom signed legislation phasing out the use of PFAS in firefighting foam. In 2018, the state banned the use of toxic flame retardants from juvenile products. So it seems only a natural next step that we do the same with PFAS chemicals.
So far my colleagues have agreed with me. AB 652 passed through the Assembly with a resounding 54 votes of support on the Assembly floor. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, especially as we move forward. There are still voices of opposition that will argue that we already have taken steps to address toxic chemicals, such as Proposition 65 and the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control’s Safer Consumer Products program. Over the past few months, I’ve worked with groups in opposition to the bill to address their concerns and find common ground. To be honest, we have the data and it shows there isn’t anything currently on the books that’s moving nearly fast enough. For the Safer Consumer Products program, we could wait another decade before they might get to the issue of PFAS in these juvenile products. In that time, our children would have been exposed to a chemical that will stay in their bodies for years – potentially causing a host of serious and lifelong health issues.
That’s not a risk I want to take as an elected official, as a Californian, and certainly not as a mother of a young daughter.
A restriction on the sale of specific products containing PFAS is the only way to ensure that every Californian has access to products that do not present a dire health risk to their families just by their mere presence in a home. I hope my colleagues in the State Senate continue to agree with me and give my AB 652 their ‘aye’ vote.