News: Senator Merkley Debuts a Bill to Ban PBTs

Are you ready to stop worrying about harmful chemicals in the products you buy? New legislation just might help make concerns about some of the worst offenders a thing of the past.

On July 25th, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced legislation that would phase out chemicals known as PBTs (persistent, bioaccumulative toxicants), a class that is the most dangerous to pregnant women and children (and the environment). The “Protecting America’s Families from Toxic Chemicals Act” would empower the Environmental Protection Agency to identify and phase out PBTs within five years. The bill also identifies 22 known PBTs to expedite their phase out for non-essential uses.

“Legislation like this is long overdue,” says Senator Merkley. “It’s especially important for America’s families and children in protecting them from the known harmful chemicals that are used in everyday consumer products.”

Senator Merkley adds that this legislation would improve families’ and infants’ health by fast-tracking the phase-out of PBTs—including mercury, lead, and brominated flame retardants—that are still found in many consumer products and often end up in the food we eat.

“Toxic chemicals are generally bad, but these are the worst, because they don’t degrade in the environment and they build up in the food chain,” says Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a broad national coalition seeking reform of U.S. chemical policy. “Who’s at the top of the food chain? Us—human beings. Senator Merkley’s legislation takes the decisive action that is needed to address these dangerous chemicals. It’s in line with international standards and the emerging best practices of many leading companies.”

What are PBTs?
PBTs are uniquely hazardous to people and the environment because they persist in the environment for long periods of time and can travel to virtually every corner of the earth. They also accumulate in living organisms and increase in concentration as they move up the food chain.

Because of these characteristics, PBTs defy traditional chemical assessment and management methods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still finds widespread exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), more than 30 years after they were banned, though the levels have steadily dropped.

According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a growing body of scientific evidence links PBT chemicals to a wide range of serious human health problems, including early onset of puberty, infertility, endocrine disruption, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and certain cancers.

PBTs have been targeted for elimination by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (the “POPs Treaty”) signed by former President George W. Bush. (The treaty was never ratified or implemented in the US.) They are also targeted by state and regional policies. Companies as diverse as Staples, Dignity Health, and Construction Specialties have targeted PBTs for elimination in their supply chains and work environments.

Erinn Morgan


After a 10-year career as an award-winning New York City-based editor launching and redesigning urban, style-driven magazines, Erinn Morgan left downtown Manhattan after September 11th, 2001, in search of a less encumbered, freelance lifestyle. A two-year-long trek around the country eventually landed her in Durango, Colo., which she now calls home.

Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Outside, National Geographic Adventure, Bike, Skiing, Delicious Living, American Cowboy, and on

Erinn is also the author of the eco-focused book, Picture Yourself Going Green, Step-by-Step Instruction for Living a Budget-Conscious, Earth-Friendly Lifestyle in Eight Weeks or Less.

She was previously the editor-in-chief of 20/20 magazine, a special projects editor at Playboy (overseeing the launch of a new, custom magazine), and the founding editor/editor-in-chief of SoHo Style, a much-lauded, avant-garde magazine that covered the culture and style of downtown New York and its reach around the world.

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