In April 2013, advocacy groups and NGOs nationwide cheered in unison as Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) rolled out the Safe Chemicals Act.
It appeared that the country’s gravely outdated and broken chemical regulatory law-Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)-was a step closer to getting the makeover it needed to better protect the American people from exposure to toxic chemicals.
After all, It’s been nearly 40 years since TSCA was introduced, and no updates have been made despite the onslaught of chemicals that have been registered for use in the U.S.-an upwards of 80,000. Read more about cleaning without toxic chemicals
But there was one obstacle; if change was going to happen, the bill needed bipartisan support.
Then, a month later, Senator Lautenberg and David Vitter (R-LA) turned heads when they introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act in an effort to gain strong support from both parties and drive much-needed reform of TSCA. The bill, introduced just two weeks before Lautenberg’s passing, represents an important crossroads for toxic chemical reform.
Though supporters of the Safe Chemicals Act have applauded Congress for working together-there are currently 10 co-sponsors from each party-the bill unfortunately puts advocacy groups and the American public in a huge pickle. As drafted, significant changes need to be made to truly fix the flaws of TSCA.
Of the major improvements to TSCA, the new bill in Congress would mandate safety evaluations for all chemicals in commerce, require that new chemicals are deemed safe before entering the market, allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require testing without having to first show potential risk, and put a limit on information that falls under ‘trade secret’ so the public is more knowledgeable about toxic chemicals.
However, here are a few of the hiccups in the bill:
1. Vulnerable populations are not protected
Because pregnant women, children, and residents of heavy areas of contamination are more at risk, it is key that legislation more explicitly protect these groups. As it stands, the bill simply requires that the EPA assess exposures of these groups to potential toxic chemicals during safety assessments, but not that they protect them.
2. States could be prevented from taking action
The preemptive clause in the bill would largely restrict states from addressing both “high priority” and “low priority” chemicals when the government doesn’t get the job done. Without state protection, longstanding state laws like California Prop 65 could be at risk.
3. Adds more red tape
As it’s written, the bill would actually make it harder for the EPA to take action or phase out the worst chemicals due to socio- and economic factors. Remember when the EPA was prevented from banning asbestos in the nineties after a drawn-out court battle? Let’s not let that happen again. We should not allow a cost-benefit analysis to block action on dangerous substances.
4. No deadlines or timelines
The bill lacks set timelines and deadlines for assessing a minimum number of chemicals, which ones to focus on, and what to do with the worst chemicals. Every law should have clear deadlines to ensure timely implementation.
Unfortunately, Congress assumes that the public is not paying close attention; that we are blinded by the shiny lights of a toxic chemical reform act and think any change is positive. But, real reform is necessary. Today, of the 2,800 chemicals produced in high-volume each year, 43% have no testing data on basic toxicity and only 7% have a full report of data on basic toxicity. Yet, they are in our food, personal care items, household cleaning products, furniture, paint, electronics, and the air we breathe-exposing us to thousands of potentially toxic chemicals each day.
As organizers, activists, and parents, we have the power to speak up and tell Congress it’s time for sweeping change.
What You Can Do
1. Urge Congress to Strengthen the Chemical Safety Improvement Act
Tell your senator to stand up for women, children, and vulnerable populations, allow states to maintain their rights to take action on toxic chemicals, and give the EPA the power to effectively do its job. This is a crucial time for Congress to hear your voice. Click here to enter your zip code and address a message to your appropriate senator.
2. Tell the Nation’s Top 10 Retailers to Adopt Stricter Policy on Toxic Chemicals
In addition to speaking up to Congress, you can urge your favorite retailers to be tougher on what they allow into their stores given the lack of governmental regulation. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families has launched the ‘Mind the Store’ challenge to ask the top 10 retailers to end the use of the top 100 hazardous chemicals. Thanks to calls and emails from the general public, Walmart has been the first to take the lead, announcing that it will prioritize the reduction or elimination of 10 toxic chemicals from certain product lines by January 2015, in addition to other crucial actions. Speak up to encourage other retailers to take these concerns seriously. Click here to tell retailers like Target, Walgreens, Costco, CVS, The Home Depot, and Safeway to adopt stricter policies.
Now is the time to act. Regardless of what side of politics you stand on, you can do your part to let Big Industry and Congress know that chemical safety is not a partisan issue.
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