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New Landmark Federal Chemical Legislation Follows Washington State’s Lead

Prompted By Washington Policies To Get Toxic Chemicals out of Products, Coalition of 11 Million Supports Bill, Seeks Improvements before Enactment 

Seattle, WA –  Public health advocates in Washington state today applauded the introduction of federal legislation to protect families from harmful chemicals. The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010”, introduced today by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL), will overhaul federal regulation of the chemical industry for the first time in 34 years.  The Washington state-based Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition, who has led the campaigns to put in place the first-in-the-nation toxic flame retardant ban, the strongest national standards for chemicals in toys, and recently, a ban on bisphenol A (BPA) in children’s dishware, supports the federal legislation but cautioned that the bill needs further improvement in three critical areas.

“The Safe Chemicals Act offers a long overdue opportunity to fix our badly broken chemical safety system, which has failed to protect public health or keep us with the latest science,” said Laurie Valeriano, policy director of the Washington Toxics Coalition, a Washington state-based public health organization.  “Washington state’s Congressional delegation should follow the bipartisan path blazed by the Washington Legislature and strongly support federal safer chemicals reform.”

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA).  The current TSCA law is widely understood to be ineffective.  When TSCA passed, it ‘grandfathered’ in 62,000 chemicals in use without restriction or testing.  In more than 30 years since then, the U.S. EPA has only required testing for 200 chemicals and only restricted some uses of 5 chemicals under TSCA.  A growing body of science has documented widespread human exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday products, and has linked chemical exposure to threats of reduced fertility, learning disabilities, breast and prostate cancer, among other diseases.

“The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century,” said Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen the bill to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.”  Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is a national coalition of 200 organizations representing more than 11 million people including parents, health professionals, advocates for learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists and businesses.

The Safe Chemicals Act proposes several essential reforms that would substantially improve public health protections, including:

  • Require new health and safety information for all chemicals, eliminating the veil of secrecy used by the chemical industry to cover up toxic hazards;
  • Require chemicals to meet a minimum health-based safety standard that protects the most vulnerable, including the developing fetus and young children; and
  • Identify ‘hot spot’ communities that are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals and create action plans to reduce that unjust burden on health.

Three serious shortcomings of the legislation, if not corrected, could perpetuate the failure of the current system to fully protect environmental public health:

  • It makes it too hard to get known dangerous chemicals off the market, such as Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic chemicals (PBTs) like lead and brominated flame retardants, by failing to give EPA clear authority to restrict them in favor of available safer alternatives;
  • It allows 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; and
  • It fails to require EPA to use the most recent and best science to inform safety decisions as recommended by experts at the National Academy of Sciences.

“Children in Washington and across our nation are being exposed to toxic chemicals found in many everyday products,” said Cherie Eicholz, executive director of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.  “Exposure to these chemicals can impact the developing brain of the fetus, infant and young child with resulting lifelong learning problems. Washington state has been a national leader in policies that protect our families but we can’t continue to go it alone.  We’re urging Washington’s Congressional Delegation to support the Safe Chemicals Act and ensure it’s an effective federal tool to complement our local safe product laws.”

“People shouldn’t need a chemistry degree just to make safe decisions at the checkout counter,” said Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood VOTES! Washington.  “We’ll be working with our coalition partners to ensure that the Safe Chemicals Act truly protects our reproductive health and our children from dangerous chemicals.”

The Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition, a statewide health-based coalition led the 2008 campaign that put in place the strongest standards for lead, phthalates, and cadmium in children’s products and requires children’s product makers to disclose the presence of harmful chemicals in their products. The Washington law, known as the Children’s Safe Product Act, identifies priority chemicals of high concern and requires manufacturers to disclose dangerous chemicals in everyday products.  Similar laws have been passed in Maine, California, and Minnesota, with like-minded legislation pending in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.

State legislation on toxic chemicals, as well as consumer demand for safer products, has driven the chemical industry to the table to join the chorus of many voices calling for reform of the federal law.

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Stephanie Stohler, [email protected]

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