WASHINGTON — Moms, a few dads and some children gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to urge Congress to strengthen the federal government's powers to regulate harmful chemicals.
The group of almost a hundred activists, which included registered nurses and cancer survivors, came from across the country to support the Safe Chemicals Act, which if passed by Congress would create a new process to monitor toxic chemicals used in consumer products.
The chemicals, which are common in furniture and baby products, have been linked to neurological defects, cancer, developmental problems and impaired fertility.
The chemical industry has argued for decades that flame retardants save lives, but its claims are based on a few small studies. Activists say the chemicals do little to protect consumers from fires.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a sponsor of the bill, said at a news conference that after he read a series in the Chicago Tribune detailing the risks posed by flame-retarding chemicals, he worried that cushioned cradles he had bought for his twin grandchildren could be harming them.
"We're finding more and more babies and more and more children across America with these chemicals already in their bloodstream," he said. "How did that happen? It happens every time you sit down on the couch.... When you sit down, you release this fine spray of toxic chemicals right in the face of your baby."
Under a 1976 law, the Environmental Protection Agency has limited powers to investigate the safety of chemicals. Since the law passed, only four chemicals have been pulled from the market for safety reasons.
The new bill would require chemical manufacturers to provide safety information on all of their chemicals to the EPA and the public. The EPA would also be required to categorize chemicals by risk level.
The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, said that it supported updating the laws, but that the Safe Chemicals Act had "many serious flaws," including unachievable safety standards.
The Democratic-backed bill has yet to attract any Republican sponsors, something that Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), its lead sponsor, acknowledged would make it difficult to pass.
The rally was organized by the group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which has been organizing similar "Stroller Brigades" in cities around the country.
After the news conference, the activists, with seven strollers in the vanguard, set off to spend the afternoon lobbying senators in their offices. Jessica Burroughs, 40, of Durham, N.C., led 61/2-year-old Reuben by the hand.
"Toxic chemicals are everywhere," Burroughs said. "They're in the toys he plays with. Why is the government not protecting us?"