Introducing his new bill, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, called the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 now in force, "an antiquated law that in its current state, leaves Americans at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals."
Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, says his bill, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, will give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals. It requires manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.
Under the current law, the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.
In 2009, the Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, named the Toxic Substances Control Act a "high-risk" priority and one of the areas most in need of broad reform.
"With virtually no rules governing the safety of chemicals," says Richard Wiles of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, "American babies are born pre-polluted, their bodies laced with as many as 300 industrial compounds, pollutants, plastics, pesticides and other substances that threaten public health."
Pesticides (Photo by PNASH)
"America's system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken," said Lautenberg. "Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children's bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe."
In the House Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois, who chairs the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, and Congressman Henry Waxman of California, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, released their discussion draft of legislation to revise the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The chairmen will be working with committee members and stakeholders to refine the legislative draft and have said they want to complete committee action by mid-summer.
The Environmental Protection Agency and other stakeholders, including the American Chemistry Council and a public health, labor, and environmental coalition, have issued principles stating their priorities for legislation.
"These various sets of principles all have a remarkable degree of similarity," noted Rush and Waxman, who say their draft legislation reflects "reasoned consideration of stakeholder and EPA priorities and recommendations."
"For decades, Congress has been told that the Toxic Substances Control Act is failing its mission and is in desperate need of reform," said Waxman. "In order to protect all Americans from toxic exposures and the adverse effects they cause, Congress must strengthen this failing law."
Over the past several months, the EPA, the states, industry, environmental groups and labor have told committees in the House and the Senate what their priorities are for reform of the toxic substances law.
Rush said that all of this information will be valuable as legislators craft the law that will "manage the health and environmental risks associated with the tens of thousands of chemicals that we find in our communities, homes, personal and work spaces, food and our bodies."
On behalf of the industry, American Chemistry Council president and CEO Cal Dooley said today, "While TSCA has been protective of public health and the environment in the past, we should harness the scientific and technological advances made since its passage to assess the safety of chemicals while fostering innovation and preserving hundreds of thousands of American jobs."
"We are encouraged that the Safe Chemicals Act reflects some aspects of the principles that American Chemistry Council released last year, which are mirrored by EPA's principles," said Dooley. "These include the need to prioritize chemicals for evaluation, a risk-based approach to EPA safety reviews, and a reduction in animal testing."
But Dooley said the council is concerned that the bill's decision-making standard "may be legally and technically impossible to meet."
"The proposed changes to the new chemicals program could hamper innovation in new products, processes and technologies," Dooley said. "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."
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of more than 200 public health and environmental organizations, announced support for the new legislation.
"The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century," Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, told reporters on a teleconference today. "We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen the bill to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace."
"We applaud Senator Lautenberg and Congressmen Waxman and Rush for introducing legislation that would dramatically improve our nation's chemical safety system," said Dr. Richard Denison, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. "Their continued leadership will be vital, however, to make several needed improvements in the bill as it moves through the legislative process, to ensure it delivers on its promise to implement a safety system that truly protects all Americans."
The coalition called for improvements in three areas. As currently drafted, the legislation would:
"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. This bill, for the first time, would give EPA authority to identify these communities and protect them from major sources of toxic chemicals," said Mark Mitchell, MD, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.
"It's high time we closed the gap between what scientists say is safe, and what our government allows on supermarket shelves," said Maureen Swanson from the Learning Disabilities Association of America. "This bill represents a major advance toward giving American families the peace of mind they've been seeking."
Wiles points out that, "The bill would also peel away the shroud of secrecy that allows only industry and select EPA employees to see 'confidential' data on chemicals. As a result, two-thirds of all synthetics brought to market in the past 30 years have been secret chemicals, their identities concealed from the public and independent scientists. Even first responders and state health authorities have no access to these chemical identities and safety data about them."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been working behind the scenes to make sure that animal testing is minimized in this legislation, the organization said in a statement today.
"The science underlying the new chemical-management law can be updated with recent advances in science and technology that allow for more useful information to be gathered without extensive animal testing," PETA said. "Incorporation of these new approaches must be the foundation of any new legislation in order to improve efficiency, speed, and protection of human health and the environment, while cutting costs and reducing animal suffering."
Senator Lautenberg said he expects legislators on both sides of the aisle to support his bill. "Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue," he said, "it is a common-sense issue and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this measure."
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