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Landmark Chemical Legislation Introduced to Protect the Health of American Families

Coalition of 11 Million Supports Bill, But Seeks Improvements Before Enactment

A broad coalition of more than 200 public health and environmental organizations announced their support for the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010”, introduced today by Senator Lautenberg and Congressmen Waxman and Rush. The long-awaited, landmark legislation would overhaul the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals.

“The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century,” said Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, on a press teleconference held today. “We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen the bill to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.”

Representatives Waxman and Rush have announced an aggressive schedule in the House of Representatives to complete committee action by mid-summer.

While there are differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation, the Safe Chemicals Act includes a number of essential reforms that would substantially improve public health protections:

  • Requiring chemical companies to develop and make publicly available basic health and safety information for all chemicals.
  • Requiring chemicals to meet a safety standard that protects vulnerable sub-populations, including pregnant women and children.
  • A new program to identify communities that are “hot spots” for toxic chemicals and to take action to reduce exposures.
  • Expediting safety determinations and actions to restrict some of the most notorious chemicals, like formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and flame retardants.

While supporting the legislation, the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition called for improvements in three critical areas. As currently drafted, the legislation would:

  • Allow hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be shown to be safe.
  • Not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals, which already have been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world.
  • Would not require EPA to adopt the 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 would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). The current TSCA law is widely acknowledged to be ineffective. TSCA ‘grandfathered in’ 62,000 chemicals at the time it passed without requiring any testing or demonstration of safety. In the ensuing three decades under TSCA, EPA has required testing for only a few hundred of those chemicals, and has only partially restricted five. Meanwhile, a growing body of science has documented widespread human exposures to toxic chemicals in everyday products, and has linked those exposures to the rising incidence of a number of serious chronic diseases and disorders, including reduced fertility, learning disabilities, breast and prostate cancer, and certain childhood cancers.

“We applaud Senator Lautenberg and Congressmen Waxman and Rush for introducing legislation that would dramatically improve our nation’s chemical safety system,” said Richard A. Denison, Ph.D., senior scientist at 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.”

Environmental justice groups applauded in particular the provisions mandating EPA to develop action plans to reduce the disproportionately high exposures to toxic chemicals in some communities.

“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.

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families promises a robust campaign to educate the public and members of Congress about both the positive aspects and the shortcomings of the Safe Chemicals Act.

“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.”