Conservation Minnesota

Protecting Ourselves and Our Environment from Dangerous Chemicals

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“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*

History 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. I’m pretty confident that chemical manufacturers probably hired a slew of experts that could obscure reality. One would think, then, that the immense success in carefully regulating the use of DDT would have come easy. But even today the economic interests built around chemical production would like to rewrite history on the benefits of restricting DDT. Fortunately Minnesota’s political leaders, on a bipartisan basis led by Rep. Willard Munger, did not buy into their economically tainted pseudoscience and Minnesota became the first state in the nation to ban DDT.

These public health efforts to protect ourselves from toxic chemicals seem to take very similar directions over the last half-century. 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 and 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 the nesting populations increasing nearly tenfold since the early 1970s.

Very similar to the 1969 effort to ban DDT in Minnesota is a bipartisan effort going on in our Legislature again that culminated great success this week with the goal of better managing toxic chemicals like BPA, formaldehyde and others. This bipartisan coalition has come together to promote three pieces of legislation under the label Toxic Free Kids Act of 2013. The first of these bills is SF466/HF605 that will require all manufacturers to list the inclusion of these chemicals in their products, and will give the state the authority to require gradual phase-out of the chemicals determined by good science to be dangerous to human health.  The SF357/HF458 will require personal care products intended for children under 12 to be formaldehyde-free within a year. And finally, SF379/HF459 will require manufacturers to stop using BPA in all food packaging intended for children less than 12 years old within a year.

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, the above three bills made progress thanks in large part to the bipartisan efforts of the courageous legislators listed below who are the chief sponsors and cosponsors of the Toxic Free Kids legislation. If any of them are your legislators, please pass along a big thank you for their courage to take on this worthy effort.

Senators

Katie Sieben (DFL, Newport) chief author BPA Ban
Chris A. Eaton (DFL, Brooklyn Center) chief author toxic regulations
Ann H. Rest (DFL, New Hope) chief author formaldehyde ban
Kevin L. Dahle (DFL, Northfield)
Tom Saxhaug (DFL, Grand Rapids)
Tony Lourey (DFL, Kerrick)
Carrie Ruud (R, Breezy Point)
Bev Scalze (DFL, Little Canada)
Susan Kent (DFL, Woodbury)
Ron Latz (DFL, St. Louis Park)
John A. Hoffman (DFL, Champlin)
Melissa H. Wiklund (DFL, Bloomington)

Representatives

Joe Atkins (DFL, Inver Grove Heights) chief author BPA Ban

Ryan Winkler (DFL, Golden Valley) chief author toxic regulations
John Persell (DFL, Bemidji) chief author formaldehyde ban
Jim Abeler (R, Anoka)
Jenifer Loon (R, Eden Prairie)
Mary Franson (R, Alexandria)
Melissa Hortman (DFL, Brooklyn Park)
Debra Hilstrom (DFL, Brooklyn Center)
Leon Lillie (DFL, North St. Paul)
Carly Melin (DFL, Hibbing)
Yvonne Selcer (DFL, Minnetonka)
Raymond Dehn (DFL, Minneapolis)
Phyllis Kahn (DFL, Minneapolis)
Sheldon Johnson (DFL, St. Paul)
Diane Loeffler (DFL, Minneapolis)
Michael Paymar (DFL, St. Paul)
Tina Liebling (DFL, Rochester)
Mike Freiberg (DFL, Golden Valley)
Jean Wagenius (DFL, Minneapolis)
Steve Simon (DFL, Hopkins)
Kathy Brynaert (DFL, Mankato)
Frank Hornstein (DFL, Minneapolis)
Will Morgan (DFL, Burnsville)
Connie Bernardy (DFL, Fridly)
Karen Clark (DFL, Minneapolis)
Carolyn Laine (DFL, Columbia Heights)

*40 CFR 164.32

About John Tuma

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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