MONTPELIER -- The Vermont House on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said he supports the idea.
The House voted 120-22 to support a measure scaling back a Senate version that would give the health commissioner the power to require warning labels or to ban consumer products containing certain chemicals, instead focusing the measure on products used by children 12 and under.
Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, is the lead sponsor of the bill.
"We've been waiting since the 1980s for the federal government to update the Toxic Substances Control Act," the main federal law governing consumer exposure to chemicals, Deen said.
The Environmental Protection Agency has taken regulatory action on about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use, and states are starting to step forward to fill a regulatory gap, he said.
The Vermont bill adopts a list of 66 chemicals identified by Washington state as of concern and sets up a new working group to advise the health commissioner on possible additions to the list. Decisions to add chemicals to the list would be reviewed by a legislative committee.
California and Maine also have passed laws seeking to regulate children's exposure to toxics.
Deen said Vermont in recent years has passed laws to regulate individual substances and reduce exposures to lead, mercury and lab-designed chemicals used in plastic water bottles and baby toys.
He explained reducing the scope of the Senate version and starting with children's products by saying, "This is a new step for Vermont. We need to give the Department of Health some time to be able to set up a system."
The House amended the bill to add a provision suggested by Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, to require child-resistant caps on vials of the nicotine-laced liquid used in electronic cigarettes.
Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell and an opponent to the bill, said he did not want to be seen as unconcerned about children's health. But he called the bill too burdensome on businesses.
"It's another level of bureaucracy for businesses to have to go through in this state," he said, adding that the regulation of toxic chemicals would be better left to the federal government.
Shumlin usually tries to avoid publicly taking sides between the House and the Senate. But on Wednesday he indicated he preferred the House version of the toxic bill and its focus on children's products even though he said the Senate version had "some good ideas."
"I want a bill that gets dangerous poisons out of Vermont when kids are being exposed to them," he said, "and I think the House did a good job on that."