Landmark Legislation Introduced to Protect the Health of American Families
Prompted by Maine Law to Get Toxic Chemicals out of Products
Coalition of 11 Million Supports Bill, Seeks Improvements before Enactment
Portland, Maine - Public health advocates in Maine today applauded the introduction of federal legislation to protect families from harmful chemicals. The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010”, introduced today by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL), will overhaul federal regulation of the chemical industry for the first time in 34 years. The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, who led the campaign that passed Maine’s first-in-the-nation safer chemicals law, strongly supports the federal legislation and cautions that the bill needs further improvement in three critical areas.
“The Safe Chemicals Act offers a long overdue opportunity to fix our badly broken chemical safety system, which has failed to protect public health or keep up with the latest science,” said Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Maine-based public health organization. “Maine’s Congressional delegation should follow the bipartisan path blazed by the Maine Legislature and strongly support federal safer chemicals reform.”
“The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century,” said Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen the bill to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.” Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is a national coalition of 200 organizations representing more than 11 million people including parents, health professionals, advocates for learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists and businesses.
The Safe Chemicals Act proposes several essential reforms that would substantially improve public health protections, including:
- Require new health and safety information for all chemicals, eliminating the veil of secrecy used by the chemical industry to cover up toxic hazards;
- Require chemicals to meet a health-based safety standard that protects the most vulnerable, including the developing fetus and young children; and
- Identify ‘hot spot’ communities that are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals and create action plans to reduce that unjust burden on health.
Three serious shortcomings of the legislation, if not corrected, could perpetuate the failure of the current system to fully protect environmental public health:
- It makes it too hard to get known dangerous chemicals off the market, such as Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic chemicals (PBTs) like lead and brominated flame retardants, by failing to give EPA clear authority to restrict their use in favor of available safer alternatives;
- It makes it too easy to introduce new chemicals on the market without first demonstrating that they meet the health-based standard under the law; and
- It fails to require EPA to use the most recent and best science to inform safety decisions as recommended by experts at the National Academy of Sciences.
“The bill introduced today is a big step forward to protect our families’ health from toxic chemicals that cause cancer, learning disabilities and reproductive problems,” said Matt Prindiville, clean production director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “We urge Congress to strengthen this bill, and to finally begin protecting American families from toxic chemicals in our homes, workplaces and environment.”
“As a physician I have seen up close the terrible impact on health of known toxins like lead and asbestos. But the health impact of the vast majority of chemicals in use is largely unknown. We must take action now or pay the consequences far into the future,” said Dr. Lani Graham, Co-President of the Maine chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and former Director of the Maine Bureau of Health. “In over thirty years the current law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, has done very little to protect the American people from the thousands of chemicals released every day into our environment.”
“Children in Maine and across our nation are being exposed to toxic chemicals found in many everyday products,” said Sandy Cort for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. “Exposure to these chemicals can impact the developing brain of the fetus, infant and young child with resulting lifelong learning problems. The State of Maine has been a national leader in policies that protect our families but we can’t continue to go it alone. We’re urging Maine’s Congressional Delegation to support the Safe Chemicals Act and ensure it’s an effective federal tool to complement our local safe product laws.”
“We shouldn’t need a chemistry degree just to make safe decisions at the checkout counter,” said Sarah Standiford, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine Women’s Policy Center. “We’ll be working with allies across the country to ensure that the Safe Chemicals Act truly protects our health and our children from dangerous chemicals.”
The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, a statewide health-based coalition, led the 2008 campaign that resulted in Maine becoming the first of several states to enact comprehensive safer chemicals reform legislation in lieu of Congressional action. The Maine law, known as the Kid Safe Products Act, identifies priority chemicals of high concern, requires manufacturers to disclose dangerous chemicals in everyday products, and empowers that State to restrict chemical uses in consumer products in favor of available safer alternatives. Similar laws have been passed in Washington, California, and Minnesota, with like-minded legislation pending in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
State legislation on toxic chemicals, as well as consumer demand for safer products, has driven the chemical industry to the table to join the chorus of many voices calling for reform of the federal law.
The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). The current TSCA law is widely understood to be ineffective. When TSCA passed, it ‘grandfathered’ in 62,000 chemicals in use without restriction or testing. In more than 30 years since then, the U.S. EPA has only required testing for 200 chemicals and only restricted some uses of 5 chemicals under TSCA. A growing body of science has documented widespread human exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday products, and has linked chemical exposure to threats of reduced fertility, learning disabilities, breast and prostate cancer, among other diseases.