Tired of waiting for long overdue federal policy reform, many states are taking the lead in passing protective chemical policies. Alaska is no exception and Alaska Community Action on Toxics is playing a leading role in these policy reform efforts through grassroots organizing.

We provide technical assistance to state legislators who are working on a number of chemicals policy reform bills that, if passed, would reduce Alaskans’ exposure to harmful chemicals currently not regulated by the federal government.

2014: Alaska’s Toxic-Free Children’s Act

Introduced by Senator Olson 1/31/14. ACAT’s News Release 2/3/2014

If you live in a community represented by Senator Olson, take one minute TODAY and call his office to let him know you want to protect Alaska’s children from toxic chemicals and to thank him for introducing the Alaska Toxic-Free Children’s Act!

The Toxic-Free Children’s Act follows other states lead to protect children from toxic chemicals. Under federal law, chemicals are virtually unregulated for their safety. Unsafe chemicals associated with cancer, learning disabilities, and reproductive problems are commonly used in children’s products.

The Toxic-Free Children’s Act would create a list of chemicals of high concern for children’s health and phase out toxic Tris flame retardant chemicals from children’s products. Tris flame retardants are associated with cancer and reproductive harm. The bill will lead to the phase out of these toxic chemicals in children’s products.

Senator Olson is introducing this Toxic-Free Children’s Act January 31st, 2014. We need to thank Senator Olson for representing the communities in the Bering Straits and interior of Alaska and for standing up to the pressure from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to not introduce the bill. If you live in a community represented by Senator Olson, he needs to hear from you! Find out here. Take one minute to call his office to let him know that you support the Alaska Toxic-Free Children’s Act! Call him at 907-465-3707.

Past Legislative Efforts:

2013 House Bill 80 and Senate Bill 29: Cruise Ship Wastewater

Vi Waghiyi testified on this bill 2/7/13.

SB29 Hearing Testimony by Vi Waghiyi, Native Village of Savoonga Tribal Member on February 7, 2013

Co-Chairs Senators Kelly and Meyer and Members of the Senate Finance Committee:

I represent the Native Village of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island. My name is Vi Waghiyi, I’m the daughter of the late John and Della Waghiyi, I’m a Yupik mother and grandmother. Thank you for taking my testimony today.

Our people are very concerned about cruise ship contamination polluting the ocean waters in the Bering Sea, and we ask you to oppose Senate Bill 29 on cruise ship wastewater.

Our Yupik people of Gambell and Savoonga have lived on our island which we call Sivuqaq, for over 10,000 years. We have two villages with 800 people in each village. We depend on the sea for our physical, cultural, and spiritual sustenance. We are blessed with a rich ocean environment including sea mammals and other animals that have sustained our people over all these years.

We understand that if this bill passes, both large and smaller cruise ships will be allowed to release partially treated human waste and grey water discharges into the waters from which we draw our sustenance. With waters warming up here, we are getting more cruise ships coming closer to the island each year. Allowing them to dump their waste into the sea is unacceptable to us, and we ask that you help by opposing the passage of this bill and ensure that our voices are heard.

We are especially concerned about the discharge of ammonia wastes by ships. Ammonia discharges unnaturally fertilize the tiny plants of the sea, the phytoplankton, causing unusual and harmful algal blooms. Some of these blooms are toxic and can carry Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.

We are also concerned about the heavy metals including zinc, copper and nickel. Heavy metals can concentrate in the meat of our traditional foods and in the food chain. We are at the top of that food chain, and heavy metals can make humans sick, cause immune system suppression, brain damage, reproductive problems and illnesses.

Some our primary foods will be at risk. Out here, we rely on our subsistence foods such as: seals, walrus, bow-head whales, clams, uupa (sea peaches), seaweeds, crab, salmon, tomcod, halibut, char and seabird eggs. All of our (neqepik) traditional foods may be damaged by cruise ship wastes.

For example, young salmon are affected by the copper in the waste and it can destroy their ability to navigate in the ocean and back. Crabs can accumulate PSP. Clams can get PSP, and accumulate heavy metals. The walrus eat the clams, and so do some seabirds. The primary food of bow-head whales we hunt, krill, can be affected by the metals and ammonia released by ships. Bow-head whales, walrus and seals are our primary food we harvest from the ocean.

This is a matter of our food safety, health and well-being, and the survival of our people, our children and our future generations. Please do not pass this bill that will harm our traditional foods that sustain our Yupik people of St. Lawrence Island.

Igamsiqayugviikamsii, thank you for representing us.

Senator Olson asked me to describe the changes we are seeing in our traditional foods, my response is below:

We are some of the most highly contaminated population on the planet because of our reliance on our traditional foods due to global contaminants, Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)that travel northward through air and ocean currents. These POPs come up to the Arctic because it’s cold and get trapped here and are ending up in our environment, our lands, our oceans, in our traditional foods and in our bodies. We have had a community based project since 2000 addressing our concerns of global contaminants and two former Air Force Bases on our Island. We sampled and tested our traditional foods and found very high levels of PCBs, also pesticides and heavy metals that we attribute to POPs. We are being contaminated without our consent from global contaminants that have greatly affected the health and well-being of our Yupik People. Our health has been compromised by the abandoned military contamination on our Island and global sources already so we are asking you to hold the cruiseship industry to the highest standards possible and not to put profit before the health and well- being our Yupik People.

In 2012 we worked on

    • Senate Bill 27 Preventing Toxic Exposures and
    • House Bill 63: Ban Toxic Flame Retardants – Fact Sheet

Preventing Toxic Exposures

This bill would phase out the sale of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or (PBDEs), a type of flame retardant which has been linked to adverse health effects. PBDEs are used in many consumer products such as TV and computer casings, upholstery, textiles, mattresses, and foams. There are many safer alternatives to harmful PBDEs that do not compromise fire safety.

PBDEs are linked to a wide range of health effects, including:

      • Adverse developmental affects such as impaired learning and memory function and impaired motor activity;
      • Thyroid disruption;
      • Adverse reproductive effects such as low birth weight, birth defects, and reduced sperm count.

The Preventing Toxic Exposures bill (SB 27) would have

      • Ended in-state sales of TVs, computers, mattresses and residential upholstered furniture containing the toxic flame retardant by 2013.
      • Directed the Department of Environmental Conservation to participate in a multistate chemicals clearinghouse to:
        • Built capacity to identify and promote safer chemicals and products;
        • Enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of state initiatives on chemicals through collaboration and coordination;
        • Ensured that state agencies, businesses, and the public have easy access to high quality and authoritative information on chemicals.

On February 28th, 2012, ACAT sponsored a “Lunch & Learn” on Senate Bill 27. Visit Gavel Alaska for an audio recording of this presentation: Safer Chemicals in Business Featuring Peter Syrett, Associate Principal with Perkins + Will

The Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center conducted a survey of the Costs of PBDE Flame Retardant Replacement for Furniture Manufacturers – RAPID RESPONSE: Review of Literature on Costs of PBDE Flame Retardant Replacement for Furniture Manufacturers, which was Requested by: Eric Downey, Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Inc.

The state of Alaska is considering legislation that would eliminate the use of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame-retardants in furniture manufacture, among other uses. Are there data from previous studies that will help estimate the costs of PBDE elimination to manufacturers?

National Safer Chemicals Act Coalition

Download the text of the Preventing Toxic Exposures bill pdf

SB 27 History/Action for 27th Legislature

Download our PBDEs fact sheet pdf

Creating Healthy Schools

ACAT worked with legislators on a bill that would reduce the exposure of Alaskan children to toxic chemicals in school buildings and on school grounds where children spend a large portion of their time.

Fact sheets on chemicals that affect learning and development: