President’s Day at the Capitol

This year on President’s Day, I celebrated in the best way I knew how – by heading down to the state capitol and pleading my case in support of a bill. Olympia was abuzz with school field trips, law students and the Northwest Anglers Association who were running fishing demonstrations in big tubs outside the Irv Newhouse Building.

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I had a meeting scheduled with Jillian Kilby, the Legislative Assistant to Representative Drew Hansen. The bill I went to discuss – and ask for Representative Hansen’s support on – was House Bill 2545. This is a bill that’s been proposed to restrict the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in certain types of consumer products. The goal is to reduce public health threats caused by these chemicals that particularly impact highly exposed populations, namely, children and firefighters.

Significant research has linked flame-retardants with hormone disruption, neurological deficits and cancer. These effects are especially prevalent in children and firefighters, who breathe gases and soot released when these chemicals burn. One of my favorite professors back at Duke was on the forefront of this research, so it’s been something I’ve been interested in for quite some time. I also used to volunteer with Washington Toxics Coalition, going to volunteer’s homes and vacuuming dust samples to see how high of a concentration of flame retardants were present in their homes (not my favorite job!).

Products containing toxic flame-retardants, while decreasing in popularity, are still ubiquitous. As many as 80% of children’s items contain flame retardant chemicals, and most upholstered furniture that wasn’t bought in the last few years still contain them. Babies born in America have higher levels of these toxic chemicals in their blood than any other country in the world.

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This bill has been proposed before in a few different iterations, but hadn’t seen success. Big tobacco and large chemical companies have had pretty consistent success lobbying against this bill. But, just a few hours after I spoke with Jillian about my support for this bill, I checked the news and found out the bill had passed that very afternoon!

Overall, it was a very interesting experience. I have never been very engaged politically, and this was a clear example of how easy (although a little intimidating) it can be to have a political voice and be a civically engaged citizen.

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