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2024 Washington Legislative Session Recap: Major Environmental Wins Reduce Residents’ Risk to Toxic Exposures

An image of the WA state legislative building in Olympia, WA across the water with clouds hanging above

In just 60 days, the Washington State Legislature has made big moves to protect residents from toxic exposure. From homes to highways, these new policies are set to create healthier communities in King County and beyond.

Here are some of the hazardous waste-related policies that passed during this year’s legislative session.

Reducing Lead in Cookware

The Program celebrates every win, big or small, but the passage of House Bill 1551 is a major victory. Research conducted by the Program revealed that many cookware items contain trace amounts of lead, which can be especially harmful to children, leading to brain damage and other health issues. No amount of exposure is safe, and this bill, which bans cookware with even small levels of lead, marks a crucial step in protecting our community.

State Funds Research to Develop Test for “Forever Chemicals”

The Washington State Legislature has greenlit $500,000 in funding to create a mobile screening tool for detecting harmful per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) in consumer products. The money will go a long way towards reducing toxic chemical exposures in our region. Current methods and equipment for screening PFAS in consumer products are costly and impractical for every day.

The allocated funds will support University of Washington School of Public Health researchers in developing a simpler method for identifying PFAS. This tool will help confirm new sources of PFAS exposure and assist in finding safer alternatives. It will also provide better guidance to reduce toxic exposures at home and work.

Mercury Light Stewardship

Initially introduced in 2015, the state legislature voted to extend the current disposal program for mercury-containing lights, with a complete phase-out of sales. One significant update to this extension is the shift of responsibility for proper disposal from consumers to the companies making and selling these products. Manufacturers are now required to provide no-cost disposal options. Extending the program through 2035 also ensures that residents can continue to dispose of old light bulbs easily and responsibly. By switching to more energy-efficient LED bulbs, consumers not only save on utility bills but also reduce their exposure to toxins.

Paving the Road to Safer Tires

While 6PPD helps prolong the life of tires, it has been linked to cutting the life of local salmon short. The state Department of Ecology has identified this chemical, commonly found in tires, as hazardous due to its connection to the premature death of certain salmon species and the decline in their numbers. To tackle this issue, the legislature has passed a measure to address the environmental impact of 6PPD moving forward.

Stiffer Penalties for Illegal Dumping

Despite the availability of free hazardous waste collection sites and other low-cost disposal options, illegal dumping remains a prevalent and persistent problem. The recent passage of House Bill 2207 aims to address this issue by classifying abandoning garbage or items like couches or cars as a gross misdemeanor. Offenders will face not only a fine but also an additional penalty equal to four times the cost of cleaning up the trash, which will be given to the affected property owner.

Protecting Nature’s Pollinators

The state legislature has approved a bill aimed at restricting the use of certain pesticides that pose a significant threat to bees and other pollinators. The legislation also emphasizes the importance of educating consumers about these pesticides. Neonicotinoids-based pesticides are commonly used for pest control and have additional applications, such as in insulation. These chemicals can be potentially harmful to people and can be indiscriminate in eradicating insects, killing bee colonies, butterflies, and other vital pollinators essential for our environment's health. The new law targets the chemical's use to reduce its overuse and protect our ecosystem.

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