Battle for Toxic Chemical Policy Reform Heats Up as House and Senate Prepare for Hearings

March 2, 2010 Bookmark and Share

Long-Awaited Bill to Reform 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act Expected Later this Month

The battle is heating up between the chemical industry and public health organizations over how the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) will be updated for the first time since its original adoption in 1976. Currently there are 80,000 chemicals used in everyday products, and only 200 of these are required to be tested for safety. Meanwhile autism, cancer, reproductive disorders, asthma and other health problems linked to chemicals are on the rise.

In the next two weeks both the House and the Senate will hold hearings on this issue, in anticipation of a bill expected to be introduced later this month by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL). On Thursday, March 4 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing on Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic Chemicals (PBTs), which include many of the most dangerous substances on the planet including dioxin, mercury, lead and cadmium. This will be followed by a Senate Environment and Public Works hearing on Tuesday, March 9 during which business leaders are invited to testify about how a transition away from toxic chemicals would affect their industry. The hearing will be audio webcast at http://www.energycommerce.house.gov.

“The chemical industry is claiming to want reform, so we’ll see how far they are willing to go to remove the most toxic substances,” said Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families – a coalition of 150 public health and environmental organizations working for toxic chemical policy reform. “With each new scientific report linking toxic chemical exposure to a serious health problem, it becomes more obvious that the law intended to keep harmful chemicals in check is not working.”

More on PBTs & TSCA Reform – PBTs are uniquely dangerous because they pose a triple threat. They persist in the environment for long periods of time and can be transported long distances; they accumulate in living organisms and increase in concentration as they move up the food chain; and, they are highly toxic, often at very low levels of exposure. Mercury, lead, PCBs, and flame retardants are examples of PBTs. Because they exhibit all three of these hazardous properties, PBTs are inherently unsafe. And because releases of even small amounts of PBTs will eventually lead them to build up to very high levels and in locations often far removed from their point of use or release, traditional risk assessment methods are not adequate regulatory action on PBTs.

While the chemical industry is advocating for expensive and time-consuming risk assessments, this would only delay urgently-needed action on a class of chemicals for which there is already broad scientific agreement regarding the serious threat they pose to human health and the environment.

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families advocates for PBTs to be phased out of commerce on an expeditious but reasonable timeline, with exceptions allowed only for critical uses that lack viable alternatives; and that new PBTs should not be approved for use in commerce under a reformed TSCA.

More on the Business Case for Comprehensive TSCA Reform – In the absence of federal government action to ensure the safety of chemicals, product formulators, manufacturers, retailers and consumers are trying to do their own research to determine which chemicals have low toxicity and degrade into innocuous substances in the environment. But due to the lack of publicly available information, they are often unable to determine what chemicals are even in their products, what hazards they may pose, and whether safer alternatives exist.

"Kaiser Permanente strives to use products with ingredients that won't harm human health or the environment," said Kathy Gerwig, vice president and environmental stewardship officer for Kaiser Permanente, who will be speaking at the March 9 hearing. "That goal is not easily met today. We'd like to see mechanisms in place to support us in procuring the safest materials for our health care needs."

Businesses interested in transitioning to safer chemicals are demanding that TSCA Reform: 1) Require chemical manufacturers to develop and submit hazard, use and exposure data on chemicals in commerce, and require the EPA to make such data readily available to the public; 2) Take immediate action to reduce the use of PBT chemicals and other chemicals of very high concern (such as formaldehyde); 3) Clearly identify chemicals of high and low concern to human and environmental health, based on robust information; and 4) Require greater disclosure of chemicals of high concern in products.

“In rebuilding and strengthening the U.S. economy, we need a new chemicals policy that limits the use of toxic chemicals and prioritizes green chemistry,” said Igrejas. “As consumers increasingly demand safer products, the competitiveness of U.S. companies will depend on their capacity to deliver products with lower toxic impacts.”