Lawmaker tells Port Townsend audience he plans to re-enter bill outlawing toxic fire retardants
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Washington Toxics Coalition Executive Director Laurie Valeriano speaks about upcoming legislation to a group at the Port Townsend Community Center as Rep. Kevin Van De Wege listens. Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A bill prohibiting the sale of toxic fire retardants, which failed in the 2013 session of the Legislature, is to be reintroduced during the upcoming session, said a lawmaker from Sequim.

“We have several better alternatives that can prevent things from catching fire,” said Rep. Van De Wege who has pledged support of the bill.

“Some of the chemicals that have been banned in the past were replaced by others who were as bad or worse,” the Sequim Democrat told about 25 people at the Port Townsend Community Center on Monday.

Van De Wege appeared with fellow Sequim Democrat Steve Tharinger, who did not speak, and Laurie Valeriano, Washington Toxics Coalition executive director.

Van De Wege, a firefighter/paramedic lieutenant with Clallam County Fire District No. 3, said his opposition to flame retardants is also personal, as a burned couch can emit toxic fumes that can harm a firefighter’s health.

“These chemicals have put us on a toxic treadmill,” said the majority whip.

“I’m in favor of getting rid of these chemicals because they don’t work very well and make my job a lot harder.”

Van De Wege represents the 24th District, which covers Jefferson and Clallam counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County, along with Tharinger and Sen. Jim Hargrove, a Democrat living in Hoquiam.

The Toxic Free Kids and Families Act passed the House in 2013 but did not make it out of its Senate committee.

The purpose of the bill is to forbid the sale and manufacture of toxic chemicals in children’s clothes and home furnishings.

The bill would enforce future action and would not affect items already on sale or in use. It would not address chemicals in other products, nor would it forbid any private party from bringing in an item that does not meet the new standards from another state.

Valeriano said her opposition to toxic chemicals was also personal, as she participated in a random study of 10 Washingtonians eight years ago to test the level of toxic chemicals in her body.

While Valeriano did not have the highest level of toxins in the group, the levels were enough to be detected in her breast milk, and she had just finished nursing twins.

“It was disturbing to me that I was passing brain-damaging chemicals on to my children before they were even born,” Valeriano said.

“The chemicals were in couches, children’s product and the food chain.”

Valeriano said that certain diseases are increasing that can be attributed to chemicals, such as learning disorders, brain tumors in children and reproductive problems.

Valeriano said flame retardants in furniture aren’t effective, showing the results from a burn test where a treated and untreated chair burned at the same rate.

Van De Wege said he expects the bill to pass the House again this year and expressed optimism that it could pass the Senate.

He read a letter from Hargrove that said, “I am working on discussions about this bill with the opposition and my colleagues and hope we will be successful in 2014.

“I am committed to working hard on this bill to protect our children from harmful flame retardants.”

Van De Wege advised those who support the bill to contact Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, at 360-786-7694.

“Even if you aren’t his direct constituents, you are citizens of Washington,” Van De Wege said. “If you care deeply about this issue, you should call him.”

The bill can set an example for other states, he said.

“One of the arguments from the chemical industry is that it will cost them a lot of money to do this and they will have to make products for one state,” he said.

“They are always trying to punt, but if we can get this done and other states realize that we did this and we survived, then maybe other states will feel more comfortable.”

Van De Wege said state legislatures observe what is passed by neighboring bodies.

“We’ll wait for things to happen in other states before we do them. Some of them watch us,” he said.

“Washington is a leader in a lot of areas, and if we can get this done, there could be a steamroll effect, and pretty soon, manufacturers will stop using these chemicals.

For more information about the Washington Toxics Coalition, visit www.watoxics.org.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 17. 2013 7:28PM
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