An Oregon bill that would regulate toxic chemicals in children's products could pose a special challenge for the paper industry.
The bill would apply to paper in products such as construction paper, the pads on children's bandages, or tissues in a box printed with cartoon characters, Paul Cosgrove, a lobbyist for the American Forest & Paper Association, told the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources this week.
As logging has declined, most manufacturers have switched to using fiber from recycled paper products, Cosgrove told the committee.
"We don't intentionally add any chemicals of this kind to our products," he said. But, "If you think of what comes in on recycled paper, and for that matter chips, there are any number of things that can be in those products."
Most commonly it's ink from newspapers and other printed paper.
Virgin wood can have issues too:
"If you have a lot of Doug Fir chips in your process, you may very well have an issue with mercury, because Doug Fir loves mercury and we have lots of mercury in our soil, especially in the south Willamette Valley."
Cosgrove was taking aim at a provision in the bill that deals with contaminants, or trace impurities that are not intentionally added. It sets a maximum concentration of 100 parts per million for these chemicals.
Cosgrove argued that some chemicals could be highly toxic in small amounts, while others could be safe at higher levels.
The industry uses a de-inking process, for example, but pulp could contain residues over 100 ppm.
"We do lots of quality testing and assurances of our pulp to make sure that the product that goes into the paper products, which are then sold to the public, including children's products, is safe," he said. "We make the judgment call between what level of concentration is a problem vs. what level is not."
Some lawmakers weren't reassured.
"My first reaction when you said there's mercury in Doug Fir chips and therefore mercury in the paper that's going into children's products, I would say, well, that's a problem then," committee chair Chris Edwards, D-Eugene said.
"We deal with that by making sure that it is not at a level that would be of harm for the use that pulp is going to be put to," Cosgrove responded.
The committee has not yet taken action on the bill, called the Toxic Free Kids Act.