Urgent Need to Update Toxic Substances Control Act Greater Than Ever Before
Earlier today a study was released by the National Work Group for Safe Markets showing that consumers are exposed to dangerous levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in canned foods. The study, No Silver Lining, tested 50 fish, fruits, vegetables, soups, sodas, and other cans, of which 90% had detectable levels of BPA. Exposure to low doses of BPA have been linked to illnesses that are on the rise in the US, including breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and heart disease, infertility, developmental and reproductive harm, and obesity.
“BPA in canned foods is just one of thousands of ways we are exposed to dangerous chemicals in everyday products,” said Andy Igrejas, national campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of 200 environmental and public health groups working to change our federal chemicals policy. “It’s a perfect poster child supporting the need for reform. It remains ubiquitous even as the science on it has become alarming.”
Right now Congress is considering a new bill to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act, a law that has not been updated since 1976 and is widely understood to be a failure. The “Safe Chemicals Act” — introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) on April 15 – would regulate tens of thousands of chemicals, including BPA, that are currently rampant in consumer products despite their known public health risks.
In addition, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is demanding that a ban on BPA in food and beverage containers be included in the Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill moving through the Senate that looks at important external food contaminants like E.coli and salmonella, but not at dangerous packaging additives like BPA that are leaching from cans into food.
BPA has been found in 93% of the American public by the Centers for Disease Control. In addition to food and beverage cans BPA is used in thermal paper, such as cash register receipts, and the production of plastics, including those used for medical devices and some dental sealants. Under current law, when a chemical is used as a food additive or it migrates from food packaging — as with BPA in food cans — it falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA. Other uses of the chemical are supposed to be regulated by EPA. However, neither agency is required to take action under current law. Under the new Safe Chemicals Act, EPA must take into account the sum of all exposures to a chemical and to other chemicals that cause the same or similar health impacts. Therefore, if EPA found that the total amount of BPA that people were exposed to was unsafe, it could restrict the use under its jurisdiction, and also tell the FDA which applications need to be restricted to ensure safety.
“Your body doesn’t care which product a toxic chemical comes from, or which agency has jurisdiction over it,” said Igrejas. “The Safe Chemicals Act would ensure that our government agencies talk to each other and that there’s a unified system to protect public health from dangerous chemicals.”
While the proposed Safe Chemicals Act is a major improvement over the 1976 law, the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition is urging that three critical areas of the bill be strengthened to protect public health:
New Chemicals Should Not Be Allowed on the Market Before Safety Determination:
Creating a major loophole, the House and Senate versions of the Safe Chemicals Act would allow new chemicals onto the market without having to be proven safe as long as EPA believes they are not “reasonably anticipated” to pose a risk. This provision undermines one of the core goals of reform that is widely understood by the public — that chemicals, like prescription drugs, should have to be proven safe before they are permitted on the market.
Most Harmful Chemicals Should be Reduced Immediately:
The House draft of this bill recognizes that Persistent, Bioaccumulative Toxic Chemicals (PBTs) are different than other chemicals, but stops short of defining a clear path to reduce their use. The proposal leaves it to the EPA to come up with a new way of regulating their safety, further delaying meaningful action. The failure to take immediate action on PBTs directly is simply not good enough for a class of chemicals already subject to restrictions all over the world by governments and major businesses. The Senate version of the Safe Chemicals Act does not mention PBT’s at all.
Latest Scientific Recommendations Should be Implemented:
The Safe Chemicals Act currently does not require EPA to implement important recommendations to improve the process of assessing chemical safety from The National Academy of Science (NAS), our nation’s premier scientific body. NAS issued eight detailed recommendations for how EPA should reform its practices after finding that EPA’s assumptions and scientific practices are out of date. Yet only one recommendation is currently required in the bill.