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Ore. House passes bill to track toxic chemicals

Lauren Gambino, Associated Press

This March 15, 2013, file photo shows Christine Hickey holding a child's sippy cup at Eco Tots Earth Friendly Children's Boutique in Grants Pass, Ore. The Oregon House passed a bill Tuesday, June 18, 2013, that would track the use of 19 chemicals considered harmful to children, and work with manufacturers to phase them out. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- The Oregon House passed a bill Tuesday that would set up a public database to track 19 toxic chemicals used in children's toys and products and would require manufactures to remove the chemicals from their products within five years.

The bill, which passed 39-21, would require companies with gross sales of more than $5 million per year to report the presence of the chemicals in their products. Manufacturers would have five years to phase out the chemicals from their products. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Supporters say the bill, modeled after a state law in Washington, would protect children from being exposed to harmful chemicals that make them sick. The chemicals include mercury and formaldehyde.

"If there are safer alternatives to toxic chemicals, large manufacturers should replace them," said Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, the bill's chief sponsor and a Portland Democrat.

Keny-Guyer said companies are currently not required to disclose the use of chemicals in their products.

"That leaves parents in the position of not knowing whether the teething ring they hand their infant, the rubber ducky they put in their toddler's bath or even the car seat they use to keep their newborn safe contains chemicals that could make them sick," she said.

But opponents say the legislation is too far-reaching and could hurt local businesses.

"We need to be very careful not to burden our commerce by getting ahead of what we can actually accomplish merely because it's for the kids," said Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican.

Among other concerns raised, Richardson said the legislation would place an unfair burden on Oregon retailers who may unknowingly sell imported products that are made using the chemicals on the list.

The list of "high-priority chemicals" includes toxins such as mercury and cadmium, which are found in batteries, as well as fire retardants, solvents, substances used in cosmetics. The list also includes formaldehyde, which is used to make clothing wrinkle-free, and benzene, which is present in cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust and synthetic rubber.

The list would be posted online by the Oregon Health Authority, which would be required to review the list every three years, and would be able to remove and add chemicals as necessary.

After five years of a chemical being placed on the list, manufacturers would have to do one of the following: remove that chemical from their products, apply for a waiver because there isn't a substitute for the chemical available on the market or prove the chemical doesn't pose a hazard.

Rep. David Gomberg, a Lincoln City Democrat, who runs a small business manufacturing and selling kites, said he thinks the reporting requirement in the legislation is reasonable considering the hazard these chemicals pose to young children.

"The bottom line is that we don't want to give bad things to kids," Gomberg said.