By Kyle Cheney/State House News Service
Tue May 05, 2009, 05:29 PM EDT
Rep. Steven D’Amico said he developed asthma as a child as a result of an oil space heater his family used to heat the trailer he grew up in.
Rep. Frank Smizik said his asthma helped him speak “from experience” about why he believes public buildings should use environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Rep. Lori Ehrlich said the high school principal in her district just announced plans to step down as he succumbs to a serious, painful bone cancer. “We are in shreds,” she said of her Marblehead community.
These were among the personal stories lawmakers told as they urged the Committee on Public Health to take favorable action on bills to eliminate harmful cleaning products from schools, research the soot particles hovering in the air and study the toxic mold that plagues the structure of homes and the health of families.
Ehrlich is pushing a bill she says “will set national precedent” by charging polluters a fee to be dedicated to research and studies on the effects of the pollution they cause.
The bill (H 2046) would charge companies that emit “hazardous air pollutants” at a rate of 20 cents per pound, which she argues would bring in about $1.8 million per year.
Ehrlich said her constituents were shocked that research on such pollutants wasn’t already taking place.
“People feel that they couldn’t possibly get away with pouring these toxics on us,” she said.
Describing his own struggle with asthma, D’Amico, a Seekonk Democrat, argued in favor of a bill proposed by Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) to require reporting on the effect of particulate matter on communities.
Provost said “nano-particles” hovering in the air get caught in people’s noses and larynxes, causing illness and stoking asthma.
Smizik, a Brookline Democrat, argued in favor of a bill that would require public buildings and schools to use safe cleaning products to ensure the health of employees and children.
Sen. Susan Fargo (D-Lincoln) wondered how the measure would be enforced without clearly prescribed penalties for violations.
Smizik said he believed schools would comply without the threat of punishment and that the Department of Public Health could release data periodically to monitor who is in compliance.
Fargo responded that it would be challenging to pile responsibilities on DPH while the agency is having its budget cut. Lawmakers have been wary of tackling legislation with price tags as they eye a budget deficit that has grown to nearly $1 billion this fiscal year, and another, greater gap next fiscal year.
Anti-asthma advocates testified on behalf of a variety of bills at the hearing, calling for education on air quality issues for parents.
Bill backers spoke before an all-Democrat panel – the three Republican members and half of the 14 Democratic members did not attend – that included one senator, the chair Sue Fargo, and seven House members, including chair Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Boston).
Sanchez has his own bill on the docket (H 1028) to require health insurers to cover equipment to manage asthma, such as inhalers or allergen-proof bed covers. The bill also requires insurers to cover training and education for asthma patients and their families. Sanchez’s proposal has 11 co-sponsors in the House and one in the Senate.