Environmental and public health advocates are applauding Thursday's introduction of federal legislation designed to revamp the countrys outdated law governing toxic chemicals.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced what advocates called the long-awaited Safe Chemicals Act of 2010. In the House, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill) also unveiled a discussion draft of a similar proposal.
If approved, the measure would overhaul the countrys antiquated 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the way the government protects consumers from toxic chemicals.
Today marks a milestone in the fight for safer chemicals and healthy families, said Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which represents more than 200 organization and 11 million individuals. The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century.
The measure, however, isnt perfect, coalition members said. But they called the legislation an historic step toward protecting the public, especially children, from dangerous chemicals.
A trade group that represents the chemical industry agreed todays measure is a first step in the debate over chemical safety and regulations. But the organization said it has concerns about some provision in the bill.
Environmental and public health advocates have long urged federal legislators to revamp the TSCA, saying its obsolete, riddled with loopholes, and fails to ensure the publics safety from toxic chemicals.
The old law is as out-of-date as a polyester leisure suit, Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Stanford School of Medicine, said.
The TSCA, for example, requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test only a few hundred of the 62,000 chemicals that have been on the market since Congress adopted the law 34 years ago. That number has since grown to 80,000 chemicals. And the EPA has only partially restricted five of those chemicals.
Studies have linked many widely-used chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA), and brominated flame retardants, to such health issues as autism, cancer, and reproductive disorders.
Health and safety advocates have also warned that developing fetuses and young children are routinely exposed and particularly vulnerable to many toxic chemicals used in the marketplace.
Our urgent concern is children exposed to harm from toxic chemicals, Maureen Swanson, with the Learning Disabilities Association of America, said today. Kids are more exposed to chemicals because theyre on the ground and put things in their mouths. Even minute chemicals at lower levels can harm a developing fetus.
But those risks are finally addressed in Lautenberg's measure, Swanson said.
We welcome this landmark legislation, she said. It's high time we closed the gap between what scientists say is safe, and what our government allows on supermarket shelves. This bill represents a major advance toward giving American families the peace of mind they've been seeking."
There are some differences between the House and Senate versions of the Safe Chemicals Act, but the legislation includes several reforms environmental and public health advocates support, including:
Requiring chemical companies to develop and make public basic health and safety information for all chemicals;
Requiring chemicals to meet a safety standard that protects vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and children;
The inclusion of a new program to identify communities that are hot spots for toxic chemicals. The program also requires the EPA to develop plans to reduce the publics exposure to those chemicals;
Expediting safety determinations and actions to restrict some of the most dangerous chemicals, including formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and flame retardants.
The measure, however, has some shortcomings, members of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition said.
They cited three concerns in the proposed legislation:
It allows hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring companies to show the substances are safe. This provision, they said, is contradictory to the measures key tenet of preventing dangerous chemicals from entering the market place;
It doesnt provide clear authority for the EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even those that have been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world;
It doesnt require the EPA to adopt the National Academy of Sciences recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals. The Senate bill, however, does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.
Despite these flaws, public health and environmental advocates laud the measure.
This is the strongest bill yet toward chemical reform, said the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalitions Andy Igrejas. We look forward to working with (Congressional leaders) on this legislation.
Environmental justice groups support provisions in the bill that mandate the EPA to develop action plans to reduce high exposures of toxic chemicals in certain communities.
There are many communities, especially communities of color, tribal lands, and low-income communities, where people are dying at extraordinary rates because of toxic chemical exposure, said Mark Mitchell, M.D., president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. This bill, for the first time, would give EPA authority to identify these communities and protect them from major sources of toxic chemicals.
The president of a trade group for the chemical industry said his members look forward to working with Congressional leaders on chemical policy reform.
Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) , said his group supports some of the provisions in the proposed bill.
We are encouraged that the Safe Chemicals Act (SCA) reflects some aspects of the principles that ACC released last year, which are mirrored by EPAs principles, he said in a statement released today. These include the need to prioritize chemicals for evaluation, a risk-based approach to EPA safety reviews, and a reduction in animal testing.
ACC members, however, are at odds with other requirements in the bill.
We are concerned that the bills proposed decision-making standard may be legally and technically impossible to meet, Dooley said. The proposed changes to the new chemicals program could hamper innovation in new products, processes and technologies. In addition, the bill undermines business certainty by allowing states to adopt their own regulations and create a lack of regulatory uniformity for chemicals and the products that use them.
Whatever version of the bill is approved, Dooley said his members are committed to ensuring all chemicals in the marketplace are safe for their intended use.
Today, Americans live safer, healthier lives thanks to the development of chemical products and technologies. We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with Congressional leaders to ensure that reforms to TSCA promote safety and preserve these important innovations.
The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition said there is a pretty aggressive schedule on the House version of the bill and it could move to committee for action in June or early July.
But there are no immediate plans for a Senate hearing on the bill, the coalition said.