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    Report shows hazardous chemicals still in children’s products

Report shows hazardous chemicals still in children’s products

June 26th, 2014|

OLYMPIA – Following the release of a report by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) on the presence of toxic chemicals in children’s products, Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, is calling for renewed attention to the dangers of poisonous chemicals in household goods.

“The report released today once again proves the inability of chemical companies to put people before profit,” Nelson said. “Ecology evaluates products and chemicals based on evidence and science – not profits and bottom lines. They already use these proven methods to develop the list of chemicals of high concern to children; they now need the authority to act on what we know is in the best interest of the health of Washington families.”

The report by DOE follows the testing of 125 children’s and consumer products, including seat cushions, mattresses, upholstered furniture for children, electronics, clothing and baby carriers. The results showed some manufacturers continue to replace banned toxic flame retardant chemicals – known to cause hormone disruption and developmental complications – with other products that are unregulated and “potentially toxic,” according to the DOE .

Eight samples from children’s products actually contained flame retardants above the reporting limit for chemicals that have been banned.

Including Nelson’s Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, several attempts have been made in the Legislature in recent years to allow the DOE to ban chemicals from products as they are found to hazardous. Despite wide bipartisan support, every effort to grant this authority has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.

“Toxic chemicals in our homes and nurseries is not a problem for the future – it is a deadly reality now,” Nelson added. “I am sad to say 2014 was another lost year when it comes to passing common-sense legislation, and every delay only prolongs this legacy of contamination we leave for our children, our firefighters and our environment.”

To learn more about the fight against toxics in Washington, click here.

To view the database of manufacturers’ reports, click here.

To join the children’s safe products email list, click here.

Progress blocked by a divided Legislature

April 2nd, 2014|

Published in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, April 2, 2014

by Senator Sharon Nelson

It is now a couple of weeks since the end of the 2014 legislative session, and I look back on the flurried and brief 60 days with mixed feelings. There are many bills, small and great, that I am proud passed. Possibly none more important than the Dream Act, which ensures all hard-working Washington students can apply for the State Need Grant, regardless of where they were born.

Children of immigrants, who often have little or no memory of any home other than Washington, will no longer be disqualified from essential financial aid simply because of their parents’ immigration status. In the Senate, all of the 23 Democrats were joined by 12 Republican colleagues to pass this landmark legislation. And as the governor signed the Dream Act into law, we were joined by hundreds of kids who had lobbied tirelessly for this legislation and worked so hard for its passage.

On too many other fronts, however, 2014 was a session of missed opportunities. Two years into a Republican-controlled Senate, essential legislation, from women’s reproductive health to the Voting Rights Act, continued to be blocked.

The first example of this is the Senate Republicans’ failure to bring forward a compromise transportation package. The funding from this badly needed package is what keeps our roads, bridges and ferries safe so we can go to work, our kids can go to school and our economy can keep rolling. The governor, House members and Senate Democrats attempted time and again to broker an agreement. Yet instead of reaching a compromise, the Senate majority brought forward a package with only two Republican signatures — not nearly enough to bring it to the floor for a vote. Had a funding package passed, Washington would have gained 10,000 jobs this year. But those jobs are now lost, along with funding for necessary projects.

Another major missed opportunity for jobs across Washington was having no capital budget. Funding for projects, ranging from increasing access to the arts to fixing dams, relies on a capital budget. The House of Representatives passed one with broad bipartisan support, but on the final day of session, the Senate Republican majority voted against it and the investments it makes to family-wage jobs for Washingtonians. It is an unfortunate reality that such a key piece of legislation can fail despite 115 legislators voting in favor and only 30 voting opposed — four in the House and all 26 members of the Republican majority in the Senate.

Progress toward improving education, both basic K-12 and higher education, was another struggle. There were a few key steps made, including some extra funding for basic necessities in classrooms, as well as the passage of a critical bill to make high school seniors more college and career ready (SB 6552). Higher education tuition was again frozen, and the Dream Act, of course, was a big win for our students. But the Legislature, with the Republican control in the Senate, did not develop a meaningful deal on funding basic education, per the Supreme Court’s April 30 deadline to do so. We also did not do enough to close the opportunity gap so that work — and not wealth — is the deciding factor in whether or not our kids go to college.

And finally, something that seems to be a perennial disappointment is the languishing of the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act. Many of you know about this effort I’ve been engaged in for years with parents, nurses, firefighters and scientists. Unfortunately, we are up against generations of thought that give the benefit of the doubt to industries that pretend to have consumers’ best interests at heart. It is an ongoing effort to get the word out that chemical companies are adding toxic and cancer-causing chemicals to our furniture, under the guise of fire protection. Babies and firefighters are at greatest risk for exposure. Though awareness is increasing, every year without a bill to address this is another year that sees first responders die of cancer and children exposed to developmentally damaging toxic chemicals.

This synopsis of 2014 may sound a bit glum, but being home reminds me of the battles we’ve fought right here and won. And that, at least, gives me confidence for a better future for all of us — a feeling I’m happy to say is not mixed at all.

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    Nelson: “Washingtonians expect more than a ‘do-no-harm budget’”

Nelson: “Washingtonians expect more than a ‘do-no-harm budget’”

February 27th, 2014|

OLYMPIA – Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, issued the statement below following the Senate’s passage of the 2014 supplemental operating budget Thursday:

“I want to thank Sens. Hargrove and Ranker for their hard work on this budget. Because of them Democratic priorities such as protecting the safety net, family planning and some new education funding were all provided and accounted for.

“I voted ‘yes’ on this budget because of that Democratic imprint, but I know both senators and many of our colleagues on this side of the aisle agree that we must do much more than simply hold steady.

“The days of all cuts budgets are behind us. But people throughout Washington continue to feel the impact of the decisions made during the Great Recession.

“We must rebuild what was torn down during those dark economic days. And we must start by rebuilding our K-12 education system.

“We did that in a modest way in this budget, but we must do so much more if we are going to meet our paramount duty and fully fund K-12 education in this state.

“This week Senate Democrats put forth a plan to continue that conversation. Our plan will put us on the path toward fully funding education and we encourage everyone who is serious about making a difference in the lives of Washington’s one million school kids to join us at the table.

“We cannot let another year go by without developing solutions to this issue. A problem of this magnitude is going to take all sides pulling in the same direction. That work must begin now.”


Nelson addresses fire fighters at annual conference

February 21st, 2014|

OLYMPIA – Sen. Sharon Nelson spoke to a group of fire fighters as part of the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters’ annual two day legislative conference in Olympia.

“I’ve worked with many of you over the past four years on an issue that is important to the safety of our babies, our homes and those like you who go into burning buildings,” Nelson said. “And I look forward to continuing to work with you – to get unnecessary toxic chemicals out of household products so they stop harming our first responders and our children.”

Chemicals are added to furniture and household goods under the pretense of being flame retardant, but have proven to cause cancer, endocrine interruption and other severe health problems in children and adults. Fire fighters are exposed to concentrated amounts of these chemicals as furniture burns and they are released into the air.

“I also am proud to be part of a caucus that understands it is critical we make sure those who protect us are protected from bad deals that erode pensions, health benefits and workers’ compensation rights,” Nelson added.

Also discussed was the importance of restoring funding to local governments, as money has been cut in recent years due to the recession and a slow economic recovery.

“My background is in local government,” Nelson concluded. “But for a lot of people, it is fire fighters or police officers who are the connection between them and government. When my dad needed help, I was so relieved when my local first responders came. I want to thank you for your service, and I will continue to fight for the funding you deserve so you can keep doing the important work that you do.”

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    Sen. Nelson on the Dream Act vote: “This is a huge victory for our children and our state”

Sen. Nelson on the Dream Act vote: “This is a huge victory for our children and our state”

January 30th, 2014|

OLYMPIA – Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson released the statement below following the decision of Senate Republicans to finally pass the DREAM Act out of the Senate:

“I’m pleased that after a year and a half of hard work by students, stakeholders and people from all across our state, Senate Democrats will finally have the opportunity to vote for the DREAM Act. People from all across our state have worked hard and waited a long time for this moment.

“This is wonderful news for the hard-working students who will finally have the same access to financial aid that their peers have always had. Each child should have the opportunity to fulfill his or her dreams. Opening the door to college for all our kids is the right thing to do.

“This is a huge victory for our children and our state.”







Nelson elected leader of Senate Democratic Caucus

November 20th, 2013|

Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, has been elected leader of the Democratic Caucus in the Washington State Legislature.

“I am honored to have been elected as leader by the Senate Democrats,” Nelson said, following the announcement of the results on Wednesday afternoon. “We have a diverse caucus, but I believe I was elected by my colleagues because my foremost goal is to do what I was sent here by my constituents to do – work for them. I demonstrated my inclusive leadership style during the budget negotiations last year, and I intend to make that a focal point of my tenure as leader.”

As the assistant ranking member on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Nelson served as the lead Democratic writer on the 2013 Capital Budget. Also serving on the Financial Institutions Committee, Nelson — a former bank executive — is well-known for a keen command of the financial side of lawmaking.

Yet it is the human stories at the heart of Nelson’s drive to be in state government. She started as a citizen activist back in the mid-90s, focusing on consumer protection, and since coming to the Legislature in 2007 has continued that effort.

“I will do everything in my power to reach across the aisle whenever possible in order to find solutions to anything from budget deficits to fully funding education,” Nelson said. “But I think being a good leader – especially of a minority party – means you need to be both tough and fair.”

Nelson represents the 34th legislative district, which is comprised of parts of Burien, North Highline, Maury and Vashon Islands, and West Seattle.

Sen. Nelson’s Oct. 14 E-Newsletter

October 22nd, 2013|


The fight against toxic flame retardants in your couch

June 21st, 2013|

This article appeared in the July 2013 print edition of Seattle Magazine:

The Fight Against Toxic Flame Retardants in Your Couch

A pioneering Seattle coalition wages a battle against toxic flame retardants, one couch at a time

By: Susan McGrath | July 2013

Washington state Senator Sharon Nelson loved the comfy brown loveseat she bought for her office in Olympia. The couch gave her Statehouse digs a cozy feel. And curling up on it with her laptop for a precious half-hour now and then provided respite from the long hours at her desk and in her chair on the Senate floor.

Or it did until Laurie Valeriano came to town.

Valeriano is the executive director of the Seattle-based Washington Toxics Coalition. This spring, she traveled to Olympia toting a portable laboratory in a black, hard-shell case. Her instruments consisted mainly of a ray-gun-like device called an XRF and a sturdy pair of kitchen shears. Valeriano snipped a cupcake-size chunk of yellow foam from inside one of Nelson’s sofa cushions, stood the chunk of foam on a table, steadied the business end of the XRF up to it and pulled the trigger. Nelson held her breath.

Valeriano’s quarry was flame retardants. A dozen years ago, researchers began to link flame retardant chemicals, called PBDEs, to immune disorders, neurological deficits and impaired fertility. On this day, Valeriano was manning the portable test lab for the coalition’s science director, Erika Schreder, who became involved in the research 10 years ago and has worked doggedly against considerable industry opposition to get the poisons banned. “That’s when my hair turned white,” says Schreder, indicating, with a laugh, her shoulder-length, white mane.

Six years ago, Washington became the first state in the nation to prohibit the use of PBDEs. Other states followed Washington’s lead, and the industry eventually agreed to phase them out. PBDEs will linger among us for decades, nevertheless, Schreder says, leaching from our old sofas, infant seats and easy chairs, drifting inexorably into our house dust, our bodies, our babies, our wastewater, our wildlife and our food supply.

But Washington’s pioneering legislation had an Achilles heel: Although it banned PBDEs, it stopped short of stipulating that PBDE replacements be safer than their predecessors. And so, perhaps inevitably, the newer flame-retardant chemicals are not.

Two of the replacement chemicals are TCEP and TDCPP—collectively known as Tris. TCEP is linked to kidney and liver cancer, infertility and neurotoxicity of the brain. TDCPP causes testicular cancer and is toxic to developing brain cells, which can lead to learning disabilities. Under the monstrous eunuch of a regulation that is the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, it’s perfectly legal for manufacturers to produce known carcinogens like these and to incorporate them into consumer products as intimate as nursing pillows and crib mattresses.

And that’s why the coalition was back in Olympia this year with the XRF and scissors mutilating Nelson’s post-PBDE-era couch. Senator Nelson (D-Seattle) has introduced a bill in the Senate to ban Tris; Representative Kevin Van de Wege (D-Sequim) has introduced a similar bill in the House.

Van de Wege speaks with special authority when it comes to flame retardants. He’s a 14-year veteran of the Sequim Fire Department. Firefighters have sky-high rates of multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and testicular, skin, brain, prostate, stomach and colon cancers. When brain cancer killed Kent firefighter Bob Schmidt earlier this year, the Kent Fire Department considered it a death in the line of duty.

Says Van de Wege, “Almost anytime something catches on fire, we’re dealing with flame retardants.” Since the chemicals change the way objects burn, the fires produce more lethal smoke and gases. Smoke inhalation is the killer in accidental fires—and it keeps on killing long after flames have been snuffed out.

The more subtly devastating effects of flame-retardant chemicals on developing fetuses and children are harder to quantify, Schreder says. But upholstery doesn’t need to burn or rip open to release its toxic contents. With aging and regular wear, the chemicals escape from foam and settle in dust. Toddlers suck dust off their fists and toys. There’s a correlation between toxin levels in a child’s body and the toxin levels in the house dust within that child’s home.

Given the toxicity of most flame-retardant chemicals, is there an urgent need to load them into upholstered products, especially ones designed for babies? Probably not. Our sofas and nursing pillows were never that dangerous to begin with it, it turns out. Hijacked by the tobacco industry decades ago, these housewares became pawns in an unrelated battle.

It began in the 1970s and 1980s, when too many smokers were nodding off on their sofas with lit cigarettes, igniting murderous house fires. The surgeon general called for fire-safe cigarettes that would go out if a smoker wasn’t taking frequent puffs. But smokers didn’t want cigarettes apt to go out mid-smoke. So the tobacco industry launched a stealth campaign, instead, and successfully deflected the focus from “ignition sources”—i.e., lit cigarettes—to “fuel sources”—our overstuffed sofas and chairs. (The campaign was outed last year by reporters at the Chicago Tribune.)

The resulting demand for flame retardants created a lucrative market for chemical manufacturers, who borrowed from tobacco’s playbook. In 2011, Tris manufacturers created a California-based front group, Citizens for Fire Safety, which hired third-party spokespeople to use scare tactics on the chemicals’ behalf, including Dr. David Heimbach, the retired chief of the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center here in Seattle. Without acknowledging his paid status, Heimbach showed the Legislature graphic photos of a badly burned baby—the victim, he claimed, of a lit candle knocked into her crib. Tribune reporters discovered there was no such incident.

The outing of its dirty tricks prompted Citizens for Fire Safety to close its doors. But the scandal doesn’t seem to have changed the minds of legislators in Olympia who continue to oppose this regulation. One frequently offered objection to the state bill is that regulation should not happen as patchwork (state by state), but whole cloth, at the federal level—although the industry pours millions into fighting it there, too.

The Senate passed a watered-down bill in April banning Tris in some children’s products, but not in mattresses and furniture, and failing to give the state Department of Ecology authority to restrict the use of flame retardants if they prove to be harmful.

This last provision has been the biggest sticking point in the legislation, and Van de Wege and others hope to establish the authority to consistently ban chemicals and put an end to the toxic treadmill. As evidence of the need for the provision, advocates point to a recent change by baby-products maker Graco, which, in 2012, pledged to discontinue using Tris in its infant swings, carriers and playpens. Graco did make a switch: from Tris to TBBPA, one of a class of chemicals often called the “worst of the worst.”

In Senate hearings and during floor votes, Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) patiently stated and restated his opposition to giving the state agency power to ban toxic chemicals. The Department of Ecology can come back to the Legislature anytime and ask to get chemicals banned, Ericksen says, as was done with PBDEs and may be done for Tris. Nelson and others hotly disagree: Ericksen’s approach leaves industry unencumbered by regulation and allows it to drag out for years the process of getting any dangerous chemical banned—years during which people are unwittingly buying and stocking their houses, and offices, with poisons they’ll be living with for decades.

Senator Nelson’s sofa being a case in point. With her first grandchild on the way, Nelson was anxious to know just what was in that foam. “Sorry, Senator Nelson,” Valeriano said with a sympathetic grimace, “Tris.”

Nelson’s fantasies of cuddling on the sofa with her grandchild vanished in a flash. “My grandbaby,” she announced, “is going nowhere near that couch.”

Sen. Nelson statement on the House budget proposal

June 5th, 2013|

Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, assistant ranking member on the Senate Ways & Means Committee, released the following statement on the House budget proposal:

“The budget presented today is a budget that reflects democratic values and I believe the values of those in our state. It is a significant compromise to what was originally proposed by both the House and the Senate.

“We heard our Republican colleagues when they called for no new taxes; this budget recognizes their concerns. The proposal laid out today would cut taxes for 144,000 businesses in our state and help fulfill our obligation to two court cases. The Bracken decision requires that we make a technical correction to the way we tax wealthy estates so that money can be allocated to education. We would also make a significant down payment on the McCleary decision and the Legislature’s obligation to invest in basic education. When we invest in our kids, we invest in our future.

“With just six days left before the clock runs out on special session, House Democrats recognized that something must be done to put us on a path toward passing a budget. I would like to thank Gov. Inslee and Lt. Gov. Owen for working with us and encouraging us to move forward in this process.

“I look forward to continuing the budget process to help move our state forward.”

Senate passes watered down bill that does not protect firefighters, kids from toxic flame retardants

April 17th, 2013|

Sen. Sharon Nelson, D- Maury Island, today issued the following statement after ESHB 1294 passed on the Senate floor:

"I am disappointed that the majority of Washington State Senators voted to pass a gutted version of the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act. The changes made to this bill in committee and voted for on the Senate floor removed much-needed protections for our babies, children and families from these harmful flame retardants that are known to cause cancer.

"As passed, the bill bans two versions of the cancer-causing chemical Tris, both of which are already being phased out of use by the industry. The bill did not include a critical provision in the version passed out of the House that would allow the Dept. of Ecology to restrict known and future toxic flame retardants from being used in children’s products and furniture.

"Every time we ban a toxic chemical in Washington, it is soon replaced with an equally or more harmful alternative. Replacing one bad chemical with another does not protect our children. It also does not protect our firefighters, who must breathe in the harmful fumes of flame retardants when they respond to a fire as they work to protect our families.

"It is long past time for our state to get off this toxic treadmill. As a grandma-to-be, I am especially concerned for our children. They are the ones who are most vulnerable to toxic chemicals as they are growing and developing. These chemicals are in our couches and our babies’ car seats, in household dust that children ingest on a daily basis.

"Today, Senate Republicans and two Democrats failed our state by passing a bill supported by the chemical industry. My goal is to ensure that the final legislation provides real protection for our families and firefighters."