(Beyond Pesticides, April 20, 2011) Last Thursday, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation to update and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) which has allowed tens of thousands of toxic substances onto the marketplace with little or no testing. The new ”˜Safe Chemicals Act of 2011,’ utilizing risk assessment methology, would, in theory, require chemical companies to prove their products are “safe” for human health and the environment when allowed in commerce. While creating priority reviews for the higher tisk categories of chemicals, many analysts are concerned that continued exclusive reliance on risk assessment with its serious uncertainties and lack of attention to least toxic alternatives allows unnecessary toxic chemical use and undermines a precautionary approach.
Sen. Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, seeks to require that chemical manufacturers demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals used in everyday household products. “The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011” would require safety testing of all industrial chemicals, and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order to get on or stay on the market. Currently, EPA may not regulate a chemical unless it can first prove that the chemical presents or will present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. Under this onerous cost-benefit standard, EPA has been powerless to ban any substance -even asbestos, for which the science has long been clear about its dangers. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States, and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances. Previous government reports document a systemic failure by EPA to adequately regulate chemicals due to a lack of data. The new legislation will give EPA more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals and require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.
“The average American has more than 200 industrial chemicals in their body, including dozens linked to cancer and other health problems. The shocking truth is that the current law does not require tests to ensure chemicals used in everyday household products are safe,” said Senator Lautenberg. “The EPA does not have the tools to address dangerous substances and even the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws to assure consumers that their products are safe. My ”˜Safe Chemicals Act’ will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to separate the chemicals that help from the chemicals that hurt.”
Increasing rates of chronic diseases linked to toxic chemical exposure, including cancer, asthma, and infertility have created an urgency in state capitols to enact policies to get harmful chemicals off the market. To learn more about how pesticides are linked to serious health concerns, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Diseases database.
Public health groups have long urged Congress to strengthen the law by restricting chemicals known to be dangerous and requiring testing of new and existing chemicals to ensure that they are safe. After introducing similar legislation last year, Sen. Lautenberg chaired a series of hearings to solicit feedback from chemical industry leaders, public officials, scientists, doctors, academics, and non-profit organizations. Based on that feedback, Sen. Lautenberg made several changes to improve the bill. For example, the updated bill establishes risk-based prioritization categories so that the EPA can focus resources on the highest-risk chemicals. It also requires chemical companies to initially submit basic hazard and exposure data to quickly determine the risk and assess the need for further testing or restrictions.
Unlike last year’s bill, this version would divide chemicals into three categories. The lowest category would include chemicals that are considered safe. The middle category would be for ones that need safety determinations, and the highest category would be for ones that require immediate action. That top category would include chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, meaning they don’t break down in the environment and can build up in people and other living things. The bill also calls for the promotion of “the use of safer alternatives and other actions that reduce the use of and exposure to hazardous chemical substances and reward innovation toward safer chemicals, processes, and product,” to “encourage the replacement of harmful chemicals and processes with safer alternatives.”
Beyond Pesticides has long called for alternatives assessment in environmental rulemaking that creates a regulatory trigger to adopt alternatives and drive the market to go green. The alternatives assessment approach differs most dramatically from risk assessment in rejecting uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, but unnecessary because of the availability of safer alternatives.
The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN).