California lawmakers are introducing bills targeting toxic chemicals, pesticides and lead

A great blue heron sits on reeds and rubbish in the swamplands of Bolsa Chica after a rain shower. The state Ocean Conservation Council voted unanimously Tuesday, Feb. 16, on a host of initiatives aimed at reducing plastic waste that washes into storm drains before ending up in the ocean and beaches. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Highley May.

Lawmakers in the Los Angeles area are leading the fight against chemicals linked to leukemia, ADHD, hearing loss and breast cancer – and more – through a series of proposed environmental bills.

Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Burbank, is pushing a bill to ban the herbicide paraquat, which has been linked to a 64% increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, D-Encino, is backing an effort to ban six harmful food dyes in meals offered in public schools. Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, is leading an effort to address lead exposure in schools. And Assemblymember Luz Rivas, D-Arleta, and Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, are sponsors of a bill to remove two cancer-causing chemicals from plastic packaging.

All four bills met a key deadline this month to clear the Assembly floor and now head to the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a bill from Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, that would close a loophole in the state’s plastic bag ban. A companion bill has already passed the General Assembly, so this bill is now about to head to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.

Collectively, all five pieces of legislation have the potential to dramatically improve health outcomes for children, farmworkers, and Californians in general, while giving Mother Nature a break from toxins and pollution.

Friedman’s AB 1963 would ban paraquat starting January 1, 2025, a chemical she said is “easily the most toxic herbicide still used in California today.”

The chemical has been banned in more than 60 states, but is still widely used throughout California to grow crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton, almonds and peanuts. In addition to the increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, paraquat has been linked to high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney failure, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and childhood leukemia.

AB 1963 has the support of famed labor leader Dolores Huerta, who spoke before the state Assembly about the chemical’s disproportionate impact on Latino farm workers.

“This dangerous herbicide has been used since the 1960s and is endangering millions of essential farm workers, their families and local residents,” she said. “Farmworkers feed America’s families. We have to do better with them.”

Local lawmakers are also trying to do better for California’s children, whose developing brains and immune systems are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of chemicals.

Assemblymember Holden wants to crack down on the public enemy of lead in drinking water – a powerful neurotoxin that can cause irreversible damage to children’s intellectual development, hearing and ability to concentrate.

In 2018, Holden authored a law requiring licensed daycare centers in the state to test their tap water for lead contamination. Results last year showed that one in four centers had lead levels above the permitted threshold.

Now he’s pushing AB 1851, which would set a goal of no lead in drinking water at schools and child care facilities and fund a program to test and clean up lead in drinking water in 10 school districts.

“Lead consumption among youth and underserved communities is occurring at an increased rate,” Holden said in a statement about the bill. “By helping schools with the resources and appropriate standards to ensure the water our children drink is safe, we can protect our schools, students and communities.”

Assemblymember Gabriel is also working to eliminate chemicals that can harm a child’s brain, behavior and immune system. He wrote AB 2316, which would ban several food dyes: red food coloring No. 40, yellow food coloring No. 5, yellow food coloring No. 6, blue food coloring No. 1, blue food coloring No. 2 and green food coloring No. 3. as the food additive titanium dioxide from meals served in public schools.

The dyes have been found to cause neurological behavioral problems, while titanium dioxide has been linked to DNA damage and damage to the immune system.

“As a legislator, a parent and someone who has struggled with ADHD, I find it unacceptable that we allow schools to serve foods with additives linked to cancer, hyperactivity and neurobehavioral damage,” Gabriel said. “This bill will allow schools to better protect the health and well-being of our children and encourage manufacturers to stop using these dangerous additives.”

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