Rachel's Precaution Reporter #65  [Printer-friendly version]
November 22, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In case you missed this hugely important
story in Rachel's Precaution Reporter last week: Chemical
corporations have sued San Francisco again -- this time in federal
court -- claiming the city had no right to pass a law protecting
children from poisonous chemicals in toys. This is the first major
legal challenge to the precautionary approach.]

By Peter Montague

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) -- formerly known as the Chemical
Manufacturers Association -- on November 16 filed a second lawsuit
against the City of San Francisco, aiming to prevent the City from
protecting children from toxic chemicals in toys.

San Francisco passed a law in June prohibiting the sale of toys
containing six toxic chemicals called phthalates (tha-lates) and
another toxicant called bisphenol-A. In October, the ACC and other
corporations sued the city in California state court, claiming that
state law preempted the city's right to protect children by
controlling toxics in toys.

The second lawsuit was filed in federal court and it claims that
federal law preempts the city's right to protect its children from
toxic chemicals in toys. Specifically, the ACC's complaint says the
Federal Hazardous Substances Act, plus decisions by the Consumer
Product Safety Commission, make it illegal for municipalities to pass
laws to regulate toxic materials in toys.

This is a definite trend -- corporations trying to prevent local
governments from passing laws to protect citizens against hazards and
dangers created by corporations. In many instances the federal
Congress is passing laws that prevent local governments from passing
laws to curb corporate abuses. It's called "federal preemption."

We can draw three conclusions from this second lawsuit:

1. This is a major attack on the precautionary principle. The American
Chemistry Council has hired a fancy law firm to pursue this case.
Clearly the ACC is putting a lot of money behind its effort to stop
San Francisco from taking a precautionary approach to protecting

2. This lawsuit is a sign of just how powerful and bold corporations
have become that they would sue San Francisco, asserting that
corporations have the right to expose children to known poisons and
there's nothing local governments or individual citizens can do about
it. They are thumbing their noses at the Moms of the world and at
everyone else who may try to protect children from chemical trespass.

3. There is one benefit from a lawsuit like this: It allows us to see
clearly that the system we call "regulation" was set up not to protect
citizens from harm, but to protect corporations from citizens who try
to curb corporate power. The regulatory system doesn't regulate
polluters -- it regulates citizens, by strictly limiting how they are
allowed to respond to corporate abuse.