Toxics-disclosure legislation will help keep kids healthy

James Lussier /


Published Jun 13, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

As a former hospital CEO, I’ve spent much of my career trying to find innovative ways to improve the health of the people we serve. What I have observed over those years is that the most cutting-edge solution available to us all is prevention — an ounce of it is truly worth a pound of cure, and our state has an opportunity to embellish that approach. By passing the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act, Oregon’s state Legislature has the opportunity to prevent our kids from being unnecessarily exposed to harmful chemicals in toys that have been linked to cancer and other chronic diseases. This is the type of common-sense step that can have a significant impact on the health of all of Oregon’s kids.

Hundreds of studies have shown that harmful toxics, including arsenic, formaldehyde and chemicals called phthalates, are present in consumer products — even those intended for children. Exposure to these chemicals is as dangerous as it is invisible and can result in health problems ranging from learning disabilities to cancer and diabetes. Even small amounts can affect children’s developing bodies and brains.

Because companies do not have to disclose the presence of these chemicals in their products, Oregon health officials have no way of knowing which seemingly harmless bouncy seat or teething ring conceals hidden risk. This is why the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act is so important.

If passed, the act, which is co-sponsored by Bend-area Rep. Jason Conger, would establish a science-based list of “chemicals of concern.” If a children’s product contains one or more of these chemicals, the manufacturer would have to inform Oregon health officials, and, over time, substitute safer alternatives for many of them. This is basic prevention at its best, and it makes sense for Oregon’s children and the adults who care about them.

I know firsthand the cost of treating disease after it has already taken hold — not just the emotional and financial toll it takes on families, but the impact it has on our state’s economy. Each year, the U.S. spends $54 billion treating just four of the health problems linked to chemical exposure — lead poisoning, asthma, cancer and developmental disabilities. Oregon alone loses billions of dollars on health care and lost productivity associated with cancer. A smart businessperson — let alone a health care provider — knows one of the solutions is to reduce the threat to our families’ and our state’s well-being.

We cannot simply wait and hope for the federal government to take action to protect our families from these chemicals. Disclosure requirements are already the law of the land for several states, including our neighbors in Washington and California. And as more states like ours step up to protect our kids from harmful chemicals where they live and play, we’ll see prevention even further up the supply chain. With increased demand for toxic-free toys and other children’s products, we can spur innovation in safer alternatives.

I’ve spent many years working to address health-related problems in communities around the globe and right here in Oregon. I know we may not be able to keep everyone out of harm’s way, but the simplest treatment is also the best — protecting our most vulnerable from needless exposure. The Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act will give our state the authority it needs to shield kids from hidden harm in the toys they play with and other products they use every day. And that’s a pound of cure that will benefit us all.