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April 16, 2010

Healthy Legacy's take on the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010

This blog entry is re-posted, with permission, from Healthy Legacy, a coalition promoting healthy lives by supporting the production and use of everyday products without toxic chemicals. IATP is a member of Healthy Legacy's steering committee.

The author, Kathleen Schuler, is co-director of Healthy Legacy and an IATP senior policy analyst.

It's finally here—landmark federal legislation to protect families from harmful chemicals. The Safe Chemicals Act, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL), will overhaul the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals. Healthy Legacy supports the legislation, but cautions that the bill needs improvement in three critical areas. See Healthy Legacy's press release.

Healthy Legacy is part of the 200 plus–member Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition working to reform the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA, the law regulating industrial chemicals, including those used in used in consumer products, is broken. Hundreds of toxic chemicals, from lead to cadmium to phthalates to brominated flame retardants, continue to be allowed in everyday consumer products. In 2009 Minnesota became the first state to ban the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups. While this ban is an important step in reducing exposure of young children, strong TSCA reform is needed to address hundreds of other problem chemicals. 

Critical reforms in the Safe Chemicals Act include:

  • Requiring chemical companies to develop, and make publicly available, critical health and safety information for all chemicals.
  • Requiring a minimum level of protection from toxic chemicals for vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant women.
  • Establishing a new program to identify communities that are disproportionately impacted by chemicals and to create action plans to reduce that burden.

The bill should also be strengthened in three critical areas. As currently drafted, the legislation:

  • Allows hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be proven safe.
  • Does not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals like asbestos and lead, which have already been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world.
  • Does not require EPA to adopt National Academy of Sciences recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals, although the Senate bill does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, which is widely understood to be ineffective. When TSCA passed, it “grandfathered” 62,000 chemicals in use without restriction or testing. In more than 30 years since then, the U.S. EPA has only required testing for 200 chemicals and only restricted some uses of 5 chemicals under TSCA. The EPA did not even have the authority to ban asbestos, an established carcinogen already banned in 40 countries!

Enacting strong TSCA reform could save billions in health care costs. A new report by some of the nation’s leading public health professionals, entitled The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, describes the toll that toxic chemicals are taking on our health and our budget. It summarizes the insidious contribution of environmental toxins to an array of chronic health problems, including cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, asthma, reproductive disorders and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Chemical exposures are costing the U.S. an estimated $5 billion per year in chronic health care costs.

Healthy Legacy and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families will continue working to strengthen the bill to assure that it prevents harmful chemicals from creeping into our consumer products. Read up on the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families platform for reform and analysis of the bill.  

Minnesota's own Senator Amy Klobuchar sits on a key committee that will hear the bill. Contact Senator Klobuchar and ask her to advocate for the strongest bill possible.  

Andrew Ranallo

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