Hugh McQuaid Photo
Trick-or-treaters and their moms (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Just a few days ahead of Halloween, Rep. Diana Urban called Monday for legislation requiring the labeling of chemicals used in children’s products like the costumes kids wear when they go trick-or-treating.

At a Hartford press conference, Urban was joined by members of the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut as well as several mothers who dressed their toddlers up in costumes for the event.

Urban said the moms were vigilant, “but they actually don’t really have any idea what is in these costumes and what potential problems might be there. They pay close attention to be sure that we’re not eating the costume or feeding it to our little brother . . . but clearly it would be far more preferable for us to know exactly what kind of chemicals are in these costumes.”

Legislation requiring the manufacturers of children’s products to label the chemicals they use represents the latest effort by the coalition, Urban, and other Connecticut lawmakers to raise awareness of — or ban — the use of certain chemicals in consumer products.

In 2009, the state banned the chemical Bisphenol A from infant formula and baby food cans and jars based on links to several diseases including breast cancer. Another bill regulates levels of cadmium in some kids products. That bill takes effect next year.

During the press conference, Urban pointed to links between the use of some chemicals and increases in the rates of some diseases in youngsters. She said instances of leukemia and brain cancer in children have both been on the rise.

Hugh McQuaid Photo
Rep. Diana Urban (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

“At the very least can we have these labeled so that the consumer has the knowledge,” she said. “Markets work more efficiently if the consumer has information. That’s a basic tenet of economics. So labeling should not be something people shy away from.”

However, Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, said a labeling requirement specific to Connecticut could hurt businesses in a small state where consumers can easily cross state lines to buy products or purchase them online. No one wants to sell harmful products to consumers, but in some cases there’s no consensus among scientists what chemicals are harmful at what levels, he said.

“The concern is that if Connecticut is the only state that requires labeling on something when the scientific community is still debating whether it’s necessary,” he said. “We’re a small state. We’re surrounded by competition.”

The concerns mirror those debated this year as lawmakers sought to pass legislation requiring a label on foods containing genetically modified organisms. Following a grassroots movement by concerned consumer advocates, Connecticut became the first state to take steps toward mandating GMO labels.

However, in order to avoid putting Connecticut businesses at a disadvantage, the new law contains a “trigger” provision. It won’t take effect until four other states pass similar legislation. One of the states must share a border with Connecticut and their combined population must equal at least 20 million people.

It’s likely that any Connecticut-specific legislation, when it comes to chemical regulation, would face hurdles similar to those faced by the GMO bill.

During Monday’s press conference, Anne Hulick, coordinator of the Coalition For A Safe & Healthy Connecticut, said a growing body of research supports the conclusion that toxins in consumer products have contributed to childhood ailments.

“Noted physicians and scientists in this field have really come to consensus and stated that environmental toxins in consumer products is the number one cause for the rise of childhood brain cancers, leukemia . . . and a host of other diseases,” she said.

Urban said they have been working with the Public Health Department on a plan to identify harmful chemicals in children’s products.

“We really want to know what these costumes contain and how we can best protect our children . . . I’m not saying that all chemicals are bad chemicals — there are chemicals that enhance our lives — but there are chemicals that have never been tested and it’s critical for our kids to know exactly what we’re exposing them to,” she said.