Obama Administration Backs Overhaul of Toxic Chemicals Law


WASHINGTON, DC, October 2, 2009 (ENS) – Principles to guide Congress in writing a new chemical risk management law that will fix weaknesses in the current law, were announced by U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Tuesday.

Legislation to reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act is expected to be introduced in Congress this fall by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, and Representative Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Jackson identified chemical management reform as one of her top priorities.

“In my tenure as head of the EPA, I intend to focus on four key areas of special need,” she said, “confronting climate change and getting America running on clean energy; protecting and cleaning up our air and water; updating our country’s regulations and laws on chemicals and toxics, and expanding the conversation on environmentalism.”

Jackson outlined the principles she says Congress needs to write into the new legislation.

  • Chemicals should be reviewed against risk-based safety standards based on sound science and protective of human health and the environment
  • Manufacturers should provide EPA with the necessary information to conclude that new and existing chemicals are safe and do not endanger public health or the environment
  • EPA should have clear authority to take risk management actions when chemicals do not meet the safety standard, with flexibility to take into account sensitive subpopulations, costs, social benefits, equity and other relevant considerations
  • Manufacturers and EPA should assess and act on priority chemicals, both existing and new, in a timely manner
  • Green Chemistry should be encouraged and provisions assuring Transparency and Public Access to Information should be strengthened
  • EPA should be given a sustained source of funding for implementation

Senator Lautenberg said, “America’s system for regulating toxic chemicals is broken. Far too little is known about the hundreds of chemicals that end up in our bodies and EPA has far too little authority to determine their safety. Today’s announcement marks a breakthrough for public health and makes clear that President Obama and the EPA understand the problem and will fight for the right solution.”

Common household chemicals (Photo credit unknown)

“Americans deserve to know that products they rely on – from household cleaners to personal care products to building materials – are safe and will not harm their families,” said Lautenberg.

From the chemical industry to environmental nonprofit groups there is a widespread view that the 30-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act needs to be updated.

“There’s general agreement that we need to reform this law,” said Glenn Ruskin with the American Chemical Society, representing chemists and chemical engineers. “That’s very rare that you find such typically disparate groups agreeing.”

“The system we have now assumes that chemicals are innocent until proven guilty,” said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, which maintains a database of toxics in everyday products. “These reforms introduced today would flip that.”

“This really gets the ball rolling,” said Ernie Rosenberg, president and chief executive of The Soap and Detergent Association, which represents the U.S. cleaning products industry. “Cleaning product makers and their suppliers want to ensure that there is public confidence in the system that governs the use and management of the ingredients in our products.”

“We understand that industry has to provide more data and a greater transparency to that data,” said Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical manufacturers. “Without a comprehensive approach, the American people will be left with minor adjustments to the current federal regime, and a patchwork of state and federal laws that will not enable a robust chemical management system that can become the gold standard for the world.”

Jackson told the Commonwealth Club audience, “A child born in America today will grow up exposed to more chemicals than a child from any other generation in our history. A 2005 study found 287 different chemicals in the cord blood of 10 newborn babies – chemicals from pesticides, fast food packaging, coal and gasoline emissions, and trash incineration. They were found in children in their most vulnerable stage. Our kids are getting steady infusions of industrial chemicals before we even give them solid food.”

“Now, some chemicals may be risk-free at the levels we are seeing. I repeat: some chemicals may be risk-free. But as more and more chemicals are found in our bodies and the environment, the public is understandably anxious and confused. Many are turning to government for assurance that chemicals have been assessed using the best available science, and that unacceptable risks haven’t been ignored,” Jackson said.

“Right now, we are failing to get this job done,” she said.

Since it was first enacted in 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act has “fallen behind the industry it’s supposed to regulate,” said Jackson, and in addition, “it’s been proven an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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