Conservation Minnesota

With Toxics Knowledge is Power

JohnTumaFeature“Going to school is an everyday process; it isn’t something we accomplish and are all done with.”
Bruce F. Vento
Former Minnesota Congressman

Bruce F. Vento understood that knowledge is power. Education and gaining knowledge was a central part of Vento’s life as a teacher, but he had worked hard to get an education. He was born the second of 8 children to a blue-collar family in 1940. With a blue-collar work ethic he did several different hard labor jobs to get ahead, working in a brewery, a plastics plant, a newspaper mailroom and a hotel. Eventually he would graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 1965 and then attended the University of Minnesota on a National Science Foundation Scholarship.

Eventually Vento became a successful and respected teacher. The articulate schoolteacher Mr. Vento was soon noticed by the St. Paul DFL party leadership and was tapped to become a member of the Minnesota Legislature in 1970. He served three terms, becoming assistant majority leader and a committee chairman. He then went on to a distinguished career in Congress from Minnesota’s Fourth Congressional District in 1976 until his death in 1990.

Vento’s premature death was a terrible shock to many in Minnesota politics and was due to a terrible lung cancer known as mesothelioma. A fibrous mineral known as asbestos that was used extensively in manufacturing and construction materials causes this cancer. It is a slow killer that many don’t even know they have been exposed to with symptoms often not showing up until years later. Minnesota is one of the first states to regulate and phase out the use of asbestos. Unfortunately for Vento it was too late. He was exposed as he worked various industrial jobs to get his college education. Few people knew of the dangers or had the knowledge of what to do after being exposed.

That’s why, if Vento were still alive today, I think he would be encouraging his former colleagues in the Minnesota Legislature today to adopt the Toxic Free Kids Act (TFKA). The Minnesota Department of Health has a long-standing list of 9 of the most toxic chemicals for children’s products including such things as lead, cadmium, and formaldehyde. TFKA would require the manufacturers of children’s toys, clothing and bath products to simply report to Minnesotans which of their products contain these chemicals deemed most dangerous.

Like Vento, Minnesota parents understand that knowledge is power. It would seem obvious that parents have the right to know if products that are being marketed to their children may contain these toxic chemicals. Sadly, corporate lobbyists are pushing back with “compromises” that will simply make it impossible for parents to easily gain this most basic of information.

Thanks to the determination of Rep. Ryan Winkler, Rep. Jean Wagenius, and Speaker Paul Thissen, TFKA passed the house and is awaiting conference committee action.  If members of the Minnesota Senate will stand with parents and people like Bruce Vento that believe knowledge is power, TFKA could be law by the end of this session. I think the former congressman would see the value in protecting the lives and health of our most precious asset, our future generation.

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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