Stung by criticism that his Monday letter explaining a veto of legislation to ban a fire retardant and a known toxin in children’s toys was “riddled with inaccuracies,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty yesterday acknowledged factual misstatements and apologized.
But in issuing a revised veto letter and trying to correct things, the governor seemed to dig himself into a deeper hole.
On Monday the governor said he vetoed the bill — passed with lopsided, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate — because its prohibitions “are not based on established science, and banning the use of flame retardants in children’s clothing may increase burn injuries to children.”
“That’s out of left field,” countered Lindsay Dahl of Healthy Legacy, a leading advocate of bills by DFLers Rep. Karen Clark of Minneapolis and Sen. John Marty of Roseville.
DECA not used in children’s clothing
She said the flame retardant “DECA” (decabromodiphenyl ether) banned by the bill is not used in children’s clothing, something the governor acknowledged yesterday. The chemical is used in electronics, including laptops and TV sets, in textiles, and mattresses.
And so, the governor altered his reasons for vetoing the bill which, he said Tuesday, was because “many studies regarding the impact of DECA do not support a ban.”
Dahl said the “overwhelming conclusion” of independent, peer-reviewed studies is that DECA is a “dangerous neurotoxin.” She produced a long list of abstracts for scientific papers documenting known hazards of DECA, and another list of studies on another toxin, phthalate (pronounced fail-ate), that would be phased out in the vetoed bill.
Phthalate is a chemical softening agent used in a variety of child products including vinyl bibs, teething rings, and even the famous rubber ducky.
Called for agency review
The governor added that the veto was because “I believe our state agencies should review all available research and make a recommendation. …”
Dahl said that the science is well established and broadly accepted by scientific experts. Also, she said, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has found safer alternatives to DECA that meet fire safety standards and are currently on the market.
Most computer manufacturers have phased out DECA because of known risks, and the European Union has banned the chemical, Dahl said. The Minnesota Professional Firefighters testified in support of the DECA ban during legislative hearings.
Finally, Pawlenty said in his revised letter that his office was “willing to work with the Legislature to craft legislation that will require the careful study of the science in this area and impose limitations on these compounds as appropriate.”
Dahl said another costly study would be redundant. She added that the bill’s backers sought for months to meet with the governor about the legislation, and only recently got a sit-down with staff as the bill went to conference. The bill was amended after that meeting to remove language on other toxics that Pawlenty’s staff listed as concerns.
But even with the eleventh-hour language change requested by the governor’s office, the bill was still vetoed. And after all of yesterday’s back and forth, the governor said the veto would stand.
Override attempt is doubtful
The legislation passed with comfortable bipartisan majorities (the House voted 93-39, including Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, and 13 other Republicans; the Senate voted 45-20). Given that legislative adjournment is less than a week off and high-profile issues remain unresolved, a veto-override attempt is doubtful.
Dahl said that both DECA and phthalate do not bond to the products in which they’re used, meaning that the chemicals are released as children chew on playthings or as products heat up.
Forty-one nations, including the European Union and Mexico, have banned phthalate; the giant retailer Toys R Us and toymaker Mattel have vowed to be phthalate-free by the end of the year.
The flame-retardant DECA — a “developmental neurotoxin” similar to PCBs, which were banned in Minnesota in the 1970s — is used in textiles, mattresses, and electronics. Heat causes DECA to be released, exposing firefighters to elevated chemical risk as they respond to fires.
Children are affected as heat from laptops and TV sets release DECA into dust that then circulates around the home and into carpeting.