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New Minnesota environmental law bans triclosan

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday signed into law tough new legislation that bans the antibacterial chemical triclosan in soaps and cleaning products, bans lead wheel weights for cars, trucks and airplanes and toughens rules on mercury thermostats.

Under the bill — passed by the House on a 110-19 vote and by the Senate, 58-0 — Minnesota becomes the first state to ban triclosan in consumer products sold starting Jan. 1, 2017.

Triclosan is found in dozens of soaps and cleansers — even some brands of toothpaste — and has been used to promote products as “germ killing.” But health experts and environmental groups say triclosan isn’t necessary to kill germs, and may be building up in the environment where it can do harm.

Last year the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that the state would stop buying products with triclosan as current contracts expired.

A University of Minnesota study published in January 2013 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology said increasing amounts of triclosan were found in the sediment in eight Minnesota lakes and rivers, including Lake Superior, the Duluth harbor, Shagawa Lake in Ely, Lake Pepin, Lake St. Croix, Lake Winona and East Lake Gemini, all of which receive treated sewage effluent.

Triclosan was not found in Little Wilson Lake in the Superior National Forest, the control lake in the experiment, which does not receive treated sewage effluent.

“A lot of companies already have been moving to take triclosan out of their products. But we wanted to move this along a little quicker,” said state Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, chief sponsor of the Senate bill. “We know it doesn’t make soap any better … and it appears to be causing problems in our lakes. It was time to take action.”

In some cases, high levels of triclosan have been found to reduce sperm in male fish and cause them to develop female physical characteristics. Studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have found triclosan can hinder cell growth in mammals and slow swimming in fathead minnows.

When triclosan passes through sewage treatment plants, it can combine with chlorine and morph into dioxins when exposed to sunlight in the receiving lake or river.

Hand sanitizer with alcohol usually does not contain triclosan. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are currently studying the chemical’s potential danger to humans, animals and the environment.

St. Paul-based Ecolab, which uses the chemical in commercial products, and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce had opposed the ban, saying the state should wait for possible national action. Marty said the bill applies only to consumer products, and not to products sold for the health care or food industries.

Triclosan was patented in 1964 and entered the market in the 1970s. In 2012, major soap manufacturer Johnson & Johnson said it would phase out triclosan and other chemicals that could be harmful to people or the environment.

No new lead wheel weights The new law also contains a provision essentially banning the sale and distribution of lead wheel weights starting Jan. 1, 2016. Wheel weights are used to balance wheels on cars, trucks and airplanes so they ride properly. But lead wheel weights often fall off and spread lead contamination along highways.

Supporters say alternatives to lead, namely steel, are easily available and already widely used.

 “Most people may not know this, but all of the major auto manufacturers already have moved to steel wheel weights, which are actually cheaper than lead,” Marty said. “If the alternative is cheaper, and lead is causing environmental damage and health problems, there’s really no reason not to do this.”

The law mostly applies to vehicle repair shops. While it will be illegal to sell or install new lead wheel weights, drivers will be allowed to continue using lead weights already on their vehicles.

The law also bans any mercury in wheel weights.

Minnesota becomes the seventh state to ban lead wheel weights, joining California, Illinois, Maine, New York, Vermont and Washington. The bill also requires that old lead wheel weights be recycled properly.

Mercury thermostats The bill also sets up a disposal program for old mercury thermostats, making the disposal of old mercury products the responsibility of manufacturers. The provision toughens Minnesota laws that already restricted thermostats and switches with mercury.

Minnesota moved years ago to restrict new mercury thermostats but hasn’t had a good system of recovering old ones as they are replaced. The new law states that manufacturers of thermostats containing mercury, or thermostats replacing those that contain mercury, are responsible for the costs of collecting and managing the thermostats to ensure they don’t become part of the solid waste stream.

Mercury is a strong neurotoxin that, when it builds up in animals or people, can cause severe neurological and developmental problems.

The bill also eliminates exemptions to an existing law that allowed mercury thermometers for some industrial uses.

Minnesota has been moving for two decades to remove mercury from consumer and industrial products, even dental fillings, in addition to reducing industrial air emissions that contain mercury, such as coal-burning power plants. Dozens of Minnesota lakes and rivers have warnings for people to limit the size and number of fish they eat because of mercury contamination.

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