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An auspicious day for TSCA reform

 By Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director

December 2, 2009 is an auspicious day for reforming the nation’s toxic chemical laws, with momentum coming from Congress, the states, and new hard-hitting research.

Today is the first Senate hearing about the need to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in this Congress. The hearing reflects a growing public demand for reform, spurred by parent activism, market changes, and new science that increasingly underscores the threat from toxic chemicals and the lack of federal oversight.

Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has chosen the perfect lineup of experts to get the debate started:

  • EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has already signaled the intention of the Obama Administration to make toxic chemical reform a major priority and backed up that commitment with clear principles for reform and a list of administrative actions she will take to get the ball rolling.
  • John Stephenson of the Government Accountability Office has led that agency’s work on TSCA, writing several reports since 2005 that call for sweeping reform. Most recently, GAO identified TSCA as one of three critical areas in need of reform, along with financial regulation and medical devices.
  • Linda Birnbaum runs a little-known but important agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Birnbaum has a reputation as a straight-shooting federal scientist and is likely to describe for the committee how much our knowledge of chemical risks has increased since TSCA was passed in 1976.

The public has figured out that when it comes to toxic chemicals, there’s no marshal in town. Every week new studies come out making connections between chemical exposure and health problems like cancer, diabetes, and infertility.

Congress must hear the calls for strong, meaningful reform coming from all sectors – businesses looking to shore up consumer confidence in their products, mothers concerned about chemicals leaching from their baby’s bottles, and workers looking for a safe working environment. Acting decisively to eliminate the most dangerous chemicals from commerce and to ensure chemicals are safe before they enter the marketplace will better protect our health and our children. It will also help companies that want to produce safer products in a world market that is demanding them.

Also today, in one of the most promising signs of the change to come, is the call for meaningful reform of TSCA by thirteen state governments. The states’ declaration echoes two key elements of reform also advocated by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families: the need for complete public right to know about the health effects of ALL chemicals; and secondly, the need for any reform to take immediate action on those chemicals already understood to be dangerous.

Finally, research on chemicals in products and people has driven much of the public awareness of the issues and galvanized support for reform, and two reports released today make it clear why Congressional action is absolutely necessary:

  1. released its analysis of toxic chemicals in toys and children’s products. Though one would not expect that toys created for children that can be sucked on or chewed would contain toxic chemicals, found more than 700 products containing lead, mercury, bromine and chlorine. The good news is that found less lead in toys this year, in large part due to new regulations established by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which set new safety standards to limit the amount of lead in children’s products for all manufacturers. There is more work to be done, but we take hope in this example of how a new law made children’s products safer and led an industry to innovate and succeed, despite gloomy forecasts when the law first passed Congress.
  2. Our colleagues at the Environmental Working Group have released a new study, which found toxic chemicals, including the hormone disrupting bisphenol A, present in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies from African American, Hispanic, and Asian families. The report comes on the heels of a report by the Washington Toxics Coalition and Commonweal that recently found bisphenol A in the blood of nine pregnant women. These new studies are a potent reminder that babies are steeped in toxic chemicals from conception through birth and beyond.

The events of today send a forceful message that now is the time for reform. The public has figured out that there’s no marshal in town when it comes to toxic chemicals. Soon, the Senate will figure it out too.