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DIEHC Advocates Strengthening the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 (S.1009)

By Erin S. Ihde, MA


The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center advocates the strengthening of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, in order to adequately protect human health and safety.   Formerly the Safe Chemicals Act, the introduction of this new bill in the Senate signifies a deficient attempt to overhaul the nation’s 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). While the bill outlines key improvements of the TSCA, it needs to further its reach in protecting human health, and helping to reverse the epidemic of chronic disease fueled by environmental exposures.


On August 5, 2013, Ken Cook of Environmental Working Group (EWG) testified in the Senate to strengthen the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.  The EWG’s “Ten Ways New Chemical Bill Marks a Retreat” outlines alarming areas where the bill simply falls short of protecting public health, especially for kids. 


Children’s exposures are greater than that of adults, as pound for pound of body weight, they take in more air, water and food. The hand-to-mouth activity of young children, who also tend to play close to the ground where toxic chemicals settle, further their vulnerability.  Kids also have a longer latency period for disease to develop later in life, multiplying their odds of developing environmentally-triggered diseases such as cancer and neurodevelopmental issues.


In order to adequately protect public health, the DIEHC joins with Healthcare Without Harm - an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries - in urging that the following changes be integrated into the Chemical Safety Improvement Act:


         An explicit requirement to adequately define and protect the most vulnerable populations.  Vulnerable populations, including developing babies and infants, pregnant women, and people who live in communities with significant existing chemical and non-chemical environmental exposures, must be protected.  Evidence clearly shows that these groups are not only disproportionately exposed but they are also more biologically susceptible to the impacts of toxic chemicals, and those impacts can be long-lasting and costly.  Currently, the bill does not explicitly require protection of these groups when making a safety determination for a chemical.


         A review of all chemicals based on adequate information to determine if they pose hazards to health and the environment.  A thorough review of all chemicals for safety is necessary to assure that the chemicals used in commerce will be safe.  Currently, the bill does not establish a minimum set of screening criteria in order to decide whether a chemical is of high or low priority.  As written, the bill allows a chemical to be deemed of low priority based only on available data, which unfortunately are inadequate for that purpose for most chemicals.  Once a chemical is designated a low priority, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would not be able to require additional safety data, and States would be prohibited from taking action on that chemical.


         The preservation of States’ ability to act.  In the absence of federal action, States have been adopting policies to protect the public from chemicals of concern, which has led to important protections for the general public.  The proposed bill would preempt States from taking action simply by EPA’s announcing its intent to do a safety assessment.  EPA would not be required to regulate or engage in a safety assessment of a chemical before preempting State action.  States also would be prohibited from taking action on low-priority chemicals.  This would eliminate one of the most important avenues for public health protection and a safety net when the federal government fails to act.


         A clearer path to get dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.  One of the flaws of the existing law is that the standard for action is so high that few chemicals have been phased out of commerce, despite clear evidence of the potential for harm from certain chemical exposures.  The proposed bill requires an extra level of analysis and red tape before EPA could phase out the production and use of a chemical, even after a chemical fails a safety determination.  The agency will only want to pursue this option for the very worst chemicals, yet these cumbersome provisions could have the perverse impact of slowing down action on those chemicals most in need of regulation.


         Meaningful deadlines and timetables.  The Chemical Safety Improvement Act generally lacks deadlines and timetables for EPA to complete a minimum number of safety determinations.  The history of environmental laws is that they achieve their clearest results when there are such deadlines and requirements.


Make your voice heard by signing the EWG petition to urge lawmakers to protect the public – especially children – from toxic chemicals by reforming the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.


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