Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 8, 2021. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Pledged to Protect People and the Environment From Toxic Chemicals—Now It's Time to Act

The U.S. is undermining efforts to ban a dangerous plastic additive called DP that affects the brain, liver, and endocrine system and can harm developing fetuses.

Pamela K. MillerRashmi Joglekar

 by The Hill

When President Biden took office, he pledged to protect people and the environment from toxic chemicals now poisoning communities across the United States. If he is serious about that promise, then his administration must align its foreign policies with its domestic commitments when it participates in the next meeting of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, an international treaty that prohibits dangerous pollutants that persist in the environment.

The Biden administration can change course and reposition the United States as a force for environmental justice on the global stage.

As countries are prepping for a consequential meeting early next year, the United States is behaving as the obstructionist in the room. With Biden's nominee for the head of EPA's Office of International and Tribal Affairs (OITA) on the cusp of Senate approval, the EPA is well-positioned to act now and reverse this dangerous pattern of obstructionism.

More than 180 nations—but not the United States—are parties to the Stockholm Convention. Instead, the United States is an "observer." While the United States is not a party and is not bound to the convention's restrictions, our government has a long history of obstructing the convention's efforts to ban some of the most dangerous toxic chemicals.

Over the past 12 years, the United States has exploited its "observer" status to oppose the addition of at least three pesticides to the list of regulated chemicals. Inexplicably, the United States is using its geopolitical power to prevent other countries from protecting their citizens and the global environment from pesticides with toxic effects on the brain.

What is more, the United States is undermining efforts of the convention's signatories to ban a dangerous flame-retardant chemical called dechlorane plus (DP), a plastic additive that has toxic effects on the brain, liver, and endocrine system and can harm developing fetuses. DP can't be cleaned up or contained once it's released. In fact, it migrates thousands of miles from where it's released and concentrates in polar regions—a phenomenon called global distillation. Alaska has the highest reported air concentrations of DP in the country despite being thousands of miles from DP release sites. As such, DP endangers the health of Arctic Indigenous Peoples who, without action by the international community, cannot prevent releases of DP thousands of miles away from their homes.

The interference by the United States with DP's listing started during the Trump administration, when officials from the Environmental Protection Agency sowed doubt about the substantial scientific evidence of DP's toxicity.

But the Biden administration can change course and reposition the United States as a force for environmental justice on the global stage. At their next meeting in January, members of the expert committee to the Stockholm Convention will decide whether to recommend banning DP and take an important step towards protecting people around the world from this dangerous chemical. And even though the convention's decisions are not enforceable in the United States, the fact that DP is persistent and readily migrates to the Arctic means that eliminating DP's use abroad will protect communities in the United States that are disproportionately exposed to this persistent and toxic chemical.

DP has already polluted precious natural resources in the U.S. through domestic manufacturing releases. The Great Lakes region has the highest levels of DP sediment contamination in the country, undoubtedly due to releases from the manufacture of DP by the Occidental Chemical Company's Niagara Falls facility—the same New York facility that spawned the Love Canal environmental disaster in the 1970s. DP has also contaminated our food supply—high levels of DP were detected in U.S. baby food.

The Biden administration has the chance to uphold its commitment to strengthen health and environmental protections by supporting banning dangerous chemicals like DP, and reverse course on the country's obstruction of global efforts to do so. The fact is this obstructionism cannot be squared with the Biden administration's commitments to restore principled American leadership to the world stage and follow the science to protect public health and the environment.


© 2021 The Hill
Pamela K Miller

Pamela K. Miller

Pamela K. Miller, M.En., is the founder and executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and the co-chair of the International Pollutants Elimination Network.

Rashmi Joglekar

Rashmi Joglekar

Rashmi Joglekar, Ph.D., a specialist in neurodevelopmental toxicology, is a staff scientist at Earthjustice's Toxic Exposure & Health Program.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

70% of Americans Support Deciding State Abortion Rights by Ballot Measure: Poll

After an "enormous victory" in Kansas, some progressives argue that ballot measures "are the next frontier" for protecting access to reproductive healthcare.

Jessica Corbett ·


Judge Rules Walgreens 'Substantially Contributed' to San Francisco Opioid Crisis

"Walgreens knew its system to detect and stop suspicious orders was nonexistent but continued to ship opioids at an alarming pace to increase profits," said an attorney for the California city.

Brett Wilkins ·


Historic Climate Bill, Say Clear-Eyed Critics, Still 'Pours Gasoline on the Flames'

"This was a backdoor take-it-or-leave-it deal between a coal baron and Democratic leaders in which any opposition from lawmakers or frontline communities was quashed," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett ·


Doctors Against Oz Launch Campaign Denouncing GOP Candidate as 'Quack'

"ShamWow guy + stethoscope = Dr. Oz," said John Fetterman, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Pennsylvania.

Julia Conley ·


70+ Economists Say US Must Return $7 Billion Stolen From Afghan People

"The people of Afghanistan have been made to suffer doubly for a government they did not choose," says a new letter.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo