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State protections from toxic chemicals could be rolled back

By Sarah Doll, Safer States

Well, the chemical industry interests are reaching deep into their bag of tricks with the draft “Chemicals In Commerce Act” released by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) this week. Who do they think they’re fooling?

This draft is a vehicle for more secrets, more safety data loopholes, and faster introduction of untested chemicals—all disguised as “reform” of a badly outdated 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.

Of great concern are the measures to undermine and block state action. As the bill is designed, once EPA takes action of any kind, it would effectively hamstring and sideline state leaders, offering no possibility for states to contribute to health protective chemical policy.

Ask any of nearly three-dozen states who are working to protect citizens from toxic chemicals: the chemical industry uses twisted rhetoric and cozy inside politics to protect its interests. This draft bill is no different.

Rep. Shimkus plans to hold hearings in March towards a markup of the bill in April. I hope state experts and citizens to contact their legislators and make sure our elected officials know the critical contributions of state action to protect public health.

Wondering why the Chemicals and Commerce Act is so bad? Thanks to help from the Environmental Health Strategy Center, here are some highlights or should we say lowlights?

States would be blindfolded.

Today, states like Washington, Maine and California are working in various ways to better understand where, when and why toxic chemicals are in products, and whether safer alternatives are possible. This work would be wiped out. Once the EPA takes action on a chemical, they would hold all reins on data. States could no longer require companies to share information with the public or with state authorities.

State experts would be ignored.

Some of the best innovations to protect people from toxic chemicals began as state efforts. For example, state action to restrict toxic brominated flame-retardants eventually led to a national phase-out. Under this law, EPA would have to act alone on tens of thousands of chemicals. And once EPA takes action, it would shut down any state efforts to invent, test or contribute new ideas for chemical regulation.

Money would trump health.

Under this proposal, EPA would consider costs right along with health risk. In other words, if a chemical threatens public health but is expensive to replace, EPA might not restrict its use. And once EPA classifies a chemical as low priority, no state can take action, either.

Science would be stuck in the past.

The bill would reach back in history to look at actions EPA has taken. If EPA ever made a rule on a chemical—even if it was a weak, narrow or voluntary rule based on science from 37 years ago—then any and all state actions on that chemical would be wiped out immediately. EPA wouldn’t even have a chance to reconsider its rule before state laws are erased.

Old toxic products get a free pass.

Today state and federal governments partner with manufacturers to safely dispose of products proven to create human health risks. These programs help keep toxics like heavy metals out of our air and water. Under this proposal, no manufacturer or chemical company could be required to contribute financially to such a program.

No conversation allowed.

The law would make sure that, once EPA acts, the lockdown on state action is complete and ironclad. There would be no exceptions or exemptions that could allow state action, no matter what happens in the future.

They’re calling, “The Chemicals in Commerce Act” transparency and safety. We call it secrecy and health risks.