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State should pass bill to identify dangerous chemicals

God bless the child that's got his own. That line from Billie Holiday has special meaning for me. I learned from my mother that when the world doesn't give you something, you can make it for yourself.

Growing up in Buffalo in the 1940s, my parents owned a bowling alley. As African-Americans, they were excluded from the all-white American Bowling Congress. Instead of bowing to the status quo, they were among the founders of the National Bowling Association, then the National Negro Bowling Association. They made their own. This effort ultimately led to the removal of racial barriers in the ABC, and the diversification of the TNBA.

Throughout my life, that lesson has guided me time and again. When I needed something and it wasn't already there, I made my own, and was blessed. One example: When my community in Buffalo faced health problems connected with toxic chemicals, we needed an organization to speak for us. I helped form the Minority Health Coalition.

Now it is time for New York State to make its own. Many problems Western New York communities face arise from widespread and woefully under-regulated use of toxic chemicals. The federal Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), passed in 1976, has failed to protect Americans. It gave a free pass to 62,000 existing chemicals without adequate hazard data. Only five chemicals have been banned under TSCA in 36 years.

Today, toxic chemicals are used in a wide variety of products, contaminating our homes, schools, workplaces, churches and even our bodies: Newborns have as many as 200 dangerous chemicals in their cord blood.

Meanwhile, other countries have moved ahead of the United States, requiring information about chemicals and setting up systems that replace the worst chemicals in commerce with safer substitutes. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2012, much-needed reform of TSCA is moving through Congress, but slowly.

States have been left to protect their own residents by banning specific chemicals in specific products, like New York's laws banning BPA in baby bottles. Those are small, important steps.

Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, has demonstrated his support for protecting children from specific toxic chemicals, and I applaud that. But we need broader action. The New York State Assembly is rapidly advancing the Child-Safe Products Act, which would establish a list of chemicals of concern, define a dozen "priority" chemicals, require children's product makers to disclose if their products contain these chemicals, and ban them in children's products starting in 2016. This legislation will help protect our children's health.

Enactment will help keep up pressure for the Safe Chemicals Act of 2012. If God blesses those that have their own, it is time for New York to step up and make our own. That's the lesson I learned from my mom years ago, and it's good advice for New York today.

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Judith M. Anderson is executive director of Environmental Justice Action Group of Western New York.