Protecting Our Kids From Toxins

“DDT under the registration involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds.”

Edmund Sweeney
EPA Hearing Examiner
April 25, 1972*

John TumaHistory could not have proven poor old hearing examiner Edmund Sweeney more wrong. DDT has been shown to be one of the most toxic chemicals for humans, along with animals and wildlife. It is a known carcinogen and has been linked to neurological problems such as Parkinson’s disease. His affect on wildlife, in particular large raptors, is well established. Interestingly, this highly toxic substance was considered the miracle chemical from World War II through the 1960s in the battle against malaria because it was so effective in killing insects.

One of the first meaningful political voices in America to start highlighting the dangers of DDT to wildlife and humans was Rep. Willard Munger from Duluth.  In the 1950s, when most people were still thinking that DDT was a perfectly safe wonder chemical, Willard Munger was warning about its dangers. DDT clearly had a huge public health benefit by nearly eradicating malaria post-World War II, but by the early 1960s its effectiveness was already beginning to wane simply because of its oversaturation, allowing the disease carrying insects to build up immunities. At the same time, the early signs that this wonder chemical would have negative impacts on human health and on wildlife were starting to appear.

One of the most significant negative impacts in the environment was on the large raptors like the bald eagle. Higher up the food chain, the eagle’s ability to produce eggs was severely hampered due to the buildup of DDT in the food chain. As a result, the eagle population in the United States collapsed. The National Audubon Society did an eagle survey of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in the early 1970s and found the rivers only had 417 nesting pairs. This region had once supported likely over hundred thousand of our national symbol.

In 1969, when the conservatives controlled the Legislature in Minnesota, they stepped up to be the first state to ban the use of DDT on a bipartisan basis led by DFLer Munger. This was despite the howls of  “overreaching and lack of scientific proof” from economic interests built up around chemical manufacturing. Minnesota’s bold foresight proved to be absolutely correct. Soon after our ban, several states as well as the federal government followed suit. Other more effective means for controlling mosquitoes were instituted, and now DDT is more carefully used. As a result our national symbol has returned to flourish in America once again. Minnesota has led the way with our eagle population now boasting one of the most robust comebacks, with nesting populations increasing nearly tenfold since the early 1970s.

Very similar to the 1969 effort to ban DDT in Minnesota is a bipartisan effort labeled Toxic Free Kids Act of 2014. SF466/HF605 will require all manufacturers to list the inclusion of the 9 most toxic chemicals to children in children’s products. The bill also requires the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Commerce to collaborate on developing a consumer friendly website to allow consumers to identify what products have these extremely toxic chemicals.

While this may all seem like common sense, economic interests built around chemical manufacturing are still selling the same old stories of doom and gloom around their pseudoscience, just like they did in 1969 around DDT.  Despite their efforts this legislation is poised to pass in the 2014. Unfortunately, the bill has been bottled up in committee waiting action. This next week will be critical for the legislation because committee deadlines are Friday, March 21. Therefore, the bill needs to be taken up in either the Senate Commerce Committee or the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee to stay alive for this next session.

Therefore, in the spirit of Willard Munger it’s time encourage the committee chairs to give the Toxic Free Kids Act a hearing. The chair of the Senate Commerce Committee is Sen. James Metzen (DFL-South St. Paul) and the chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee is Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake).

*40 CFR 164.32

About John Tuma

John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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