PSR Supports Newly Introduced Safe Chemicals Act, Seeks Improvement Before Enactment

For Immediate Release

PSR Supports Newly Introduced Safe Chemicals Act, Seeks Improvement Before Enactment

WASHINGTON - Physicians for Social Responsibility supports the "Safe Chemicals Act
of 2010," introduced last week by Senator Lautenberg and Congressmen
Waxman and Rush. The long-awaited, landmark legislation would overhaul
the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals.

"For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has been
regulating chemicals with blinders on, because it doesn't have the
relevant health information," said Peter Wilk, MD,
Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "Americans
are being exposed to chemicals that affect immune function, endocrine
function, and have other unknown health effects. At the same time, we
are seeing increased incidence of chronic diseases. We need a
health-based approach to chemical regulation, and we are optimistic that
the Safe Chemicals Act can fill this urgent need."

Representatives Waxman and Rush have announced an aggressive schedule
in the House of Representatives to complete committee action by
mid-summer.

Positive aspects of the Safe Chemicals Act include essential reforms
that would substantially improve public health protections, such as: 

  • Requiring chemical companies to develop and make publicly available
    basic health and safety information for all chemicals.
  • Requiring chemicals to meet a safety standard that protects
    vulnerable sub-populations, including pregnant women and children.
  • A new program to identify communities that are "hot spots" for toxic
    chemicals and to take action to reduce exposures.
  • Expediting safety determinations and actions to restrict some of the
    most notorious chemicals, like formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and flame
    retardants.

PSR is a member of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a
broad coalition of more than 200 public health and environmental
organizations. While supporting the legislation, the Safer Chemicals,
Healthy Families coalition calls for improvements in three critical
areas. As currently drafted, the legislation would: 

  • Allow 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.
  • Not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict
    production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent,
    bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals, which already have been
    extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world.
  • Would not require EPA to adopt the National Academy of Sciences'
    recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when
    determining the safety of chemicals, although the Senate bill does call
    on EPA to consider those recommendations.

To ensure that this bill delivers on its promise to implement a
safety system that truly protects all Americans, it must rectify these
issues before enactment.

There is already widespread evidence that average Americans carry a
heavy burden of chemicals in their bodies. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention's National Biomonitoring Project has found that
synthetic chemicals linked to health problems are present in every
American. PSR released a report in October, 2009, documenting the presence
of industrial chemicals in the bodies of doctors and nurses across the
country. "We know that healthcare professionals, workers, children --
indeed, all Americans -- are routinely exposed to industrial chemicals,"
said Kristen Welker-Hood, ScD MSN RN, director of
Environment and Health Programs at PSR, and co- principal investigator
and a co-author of that report. "We need a regulatory system that can
protect all Americans from these potentially dangerous substances. We
think the Safe Chemicals Act is a step in the right direction, but
requires critical strengthening."

The Safe Chemicals Act would amend the federal Toxic Substances
Control Act of 1976 (TSCA).  The current TSCA law is widely acknowledged
to be ineffective.  TSCA "grandfathered in" 62,000 chemicals at the
time it passed without requiring any testing or demonstration of
safety.  In the ensuing three decades under TSCA, EPA has required
testing for only a few hundred of those chemicals, and has only
partially restricted five.  Meanwhile, a growing body of science has
documented widespread human exposures to toxic chemicals in everyday
products, and has linked those exposures to the rising incidence of a
number of serious chronic diseases and disorders, including reduced
fertility, learning disabilities, breast and prostate cancer, and
certain childhood cancers.

Environmental justice groups applauded the provisions in the Safe
Chemicals Act mandating EPA to develop action plans to reduce the
disproportionately high exposures to toxic chemicals in some
communities.

"There are many communities, especially communities of color, tribal
lands, and low-income communities, where people are dying at
extraordinary rates because of toxic chemical exposure.  This bill, for
the first time, would give EPA authority to identify these communities
and protect them from major sources of toxic chemicals," said Mark
Mitchell, MD, President of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental
Justice.

Related PSR web pages:
Hazardous Chemicals in Healthcare: a Snapshot of
Chemicals in Doctors and Nurses

The Need for Chemical Reform in the United States

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Physicians for Social Responsibility is a non-profit advocacy organization that is the medical and public health voice for policies to prevent nuclear war and proliferation and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and toxic degradation of the environment.

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