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Chemical Safety Reform: Two Bills & Impact on the TSCA

— April 7, 2015

Two bills that would reform the federal Toxic Substances Control Act are before Congress. One increases protections against exposure to potentially deadly chemicals and the other… well, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which is the leading trade organization and lobbyist for the chemical industry, allegedly penned the other.

In my grandparents’ day, that was called “putting the fox in charge of the hen house.”

The TSCA, enacted in 1976, has never been updated. Shocking, considering that the Act doesn’t require health impact testing of chemicals before they hit the marketplace. Under the TSCA, the EPA has ordered such testing of approximately 250 of the 84,000 chemicals currently in use. To date, only nine have been restricted or banned outright. To illustrate, asbestos is a known carcinogen that kills more than 107,000 worldwide each year. The TSCA does not give officials the legal authority to ban it. How’s that for a failure to protect innocent citizens? Ansje Miller, eastern states director for the Center for Environmental Health sums it up pretty well:

“As Americans, we should absolutely expect that the products on our shelves have been tested for safety. Taking action on chemical safety is critical. We’re seeing skyrocketing rates of problems linked to chemicals, such as childhood cancers, birth defects, learning disabilities, fertility problems…we need to get a handle on this so when chemicals go on the market, we know that they’re safe.”

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Guess again.

Enter the bills: the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697) introduced by Senators David Vitter, R-La. And Tom Udall, D-N.M. and the Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act (S. 725) introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and Ed Markey, D-Mass.

S. 697, by the way, is the bill allegedly written by the ACC. Exercising a simple form of digital forensics (looking at “advanced properties” in a MS Word copy of the draft bill) Hearst Newspapers determined the “company” of origin of the document is the ACC. Hens, meet fox, your new protector.

S. 697, also known as the Vittar-Udall bill is so comprehensive in its protections of American citizens that it doesn’t even mention asbestos. Further, it instructs the EPA to only test 25 chemicals (of the 84,000 in use) in the first five years and add a new one to the list as each is completed.

Vittar-Udall also strips states of the authority to continue to enforce their own chemical safety laws, even when those laws are identical to federal laws. This is especially troubling in cases where the EPA has begun testing, as said testing can take up to seven years. This time period has been designated the “death zone” by the bill’s detractors.

Did anyone else notice that the fox is wearing a bib and sharpening its fangs?

Under S. 725, also knows as the Boxer-Markey bill, EPA is required to review 75 chemicals in the first five years, adding three more to list after each completed review. It also mandates that EPA start a rapid review of toxic chemicals that are known to be persistent and build up in the human body; asbestos would get a rapid review, as it’s called out by name in the bill.

Scott Faber, VP of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, says, “The EPA estimates that roughly 1,000 chemicals need immediate health and safety review. Under the (Vitter-Udall) bill, that process would take hundreds of years. …There is no deadline for implementing restrictions, phase-outs or bans of even the most toxic chemicals, which in many cases have contaminated Americans’ blood for decades.”

Vittar-Udall’s safety standard is “no unreasonable risk of harm,” while Boxer-Markey’s is “reasonable certainty of no harm,” the same standard used for food additives and pesticides used on produce.

Once again, lobbyists for special interests are putting those interests ($$$) ahead of the safety of American citizens. If Vittar-Udall’s bill is passed, Congress will be handing the keys to the hen house to the very hungry fox. Let’s all hope common sense prevails over greed.



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