On New Year’s Eve, in the mostly empty halls of our legislature, a pivotal struggle to protect children’s health reached its climax. A bill that would have prevented future efforts to reduce exposure to toxic mercury was stalled, thanks to the leadership of state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and other very committed legislators. These heroes prevented Massachusetts from passing the weakest bill of its kind in the country and stood up for our public health by stopping it.
That this bill nearly passed was egregious because of the health implications for our children and future generations. The way that it was pushed forward, during a time that is normally reserved for only non-controversial issues, laid bare the too-often absence of true democracy in legislative process. I am grateful that some legislators stood up for both better public health protection and better democratic process.
Mercury in thermostats and fluorescent lights winds up in our air and water via leaking landfills and polluting trash incinerators. It accumulates in water, fish and ultimately in our bodies. It can create permanent brain damage and contributes to our national epidemic of learning disabilities and behavioral disorders in children.
Manufacturers of these products oppose collection requirements that have succeeded in other states in removing this pollution from our waste stream permanently, and they sought to pass this weak bill to keep those requirements at bay.
The bill was opposed by many legislators and environmental groups. Even so, proponents brought it up for a vote in the House on a quiet summer day with no notice, knowing that most legislators would not be there. The bill passed with no opposition. It then lay dormant in a Senate committee until Dec. 20, when it was brought to the Senate floor, presumably with the hope that no one was watching. Luckily, these champions were watching and they showed up, held the line and kept it from becoming law in the last 10 days of the year. This is an oversimplification; the details of the political machinations that were attempted by those wanting to force this bill through at all costs were enough to turn your stomach.
But, due to the persistence of legislative champs like Sen. Chang-Díaz who stood up for good democratic process, zero mercury and a healthier future for our kids, we have another chance to start fresh in 2013.
New England Director
Clean Water Action