avatar Mike Belliveau, Executive Director

Follow the States on Federal Safer Chemicals Reform

I was pleased to see yet another display of bipartisan state leadership aimed at preventing disease, disability and environmental damage from toxic chemicals. Today, the leading coalition of state agency environmental directors, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), announced adoption of a resolution calling for strong federal legislation to fix our broken chemical safety system. In exercising state leadership, they proved the case for a new federal partnership with the states to ensure chemical safety.

Current law, the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), has failed miserably in protecting human health and the environment from the tens of thousands of chemicals used in everyday products and materials. That’s why the Environmental Health Strategy Center has joined the national Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition to campaign for a comprehensive TSCA overhaul.

The ECOS call-to-action mirrors many of the same policy elements advanced by the pending federal legislation, H.R. 5820, the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010 sponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Henry Waxman (D-CA). These include support for new provisions of law that:

• Hold the chemical industry accountable for proving that existing and new chemicals are safe;
• Provide the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with ample new authority to determine the safety of chemicals and to take action to restrict chemicals that are unsafe or pose an imminent hazard; and
• Preserve the authority of the states to freely regulate chemicals in order to protect their citizens and environment.

Federal policy makers would do well to follow the recommendations of the states to strengthen the pending safer chemicals legislation in two additional ways:

1. ECOS supports new EPA authority to impose interim conditions and take expedited action on chemicals before completing full safety determination, when data or information indicate there are significant concerns.

H.R. 5820 requires EPA to take similar action but only for one group of the worst-of-worst chemicals – the PBTs, which pose a triple threat because they are Persistent (long-lived in the environment), Bioaccumulative (build up to high levels in the food web including human breast milk) and Toxic (harmful to living things). For example, mercury, lead and the PBDE flame retardants are notorious PBTs that have been targeted for elimination by the states to prevent otherwise inevitable harm.

Section 32 of H.R. 5820 would require EPA to identify PBTs to which people are exposed and impose immediate restrictions to reduce human exposure to the greatest extent practicable. That makes a lot of sense and would place the federal government in good company with the U.S. states and international community who are working to phase out PBT chemicals.

However, the ECOS recommendation better matches the science and effective chemical policy track record of the states. Significant concerns about any chemical should trigger authority to act on early warnings to reduce use of and exposure to the chemical, not just PBTs.

Some worst-of-worst substances are not PBTs, although exposure persists from widespread use and daily contact with products. For example, available data support interim action to restrict uses of bisphenol A, the notorious hormone disrupting chemical used in paper receipts and food can linings, and the phthalates, used in vinyl plastic and personal care products.

Comprehensive safer chemical laws passed in Maine and California provide similar authority for state governments to take action on specific uses of chemicals in products based on certain findings. Washington state and Minnesota have passed safer chemical laws that also begin to establish a comprehensive system for regulation of chemicals in products, and similar legislation is pending in other states.

For example, the State of Maine has proposed a rule to restrict the use of BPA in all reusable food and beverage containers under its chemical policy, popularly referred to as the Kid Safe Products Act.

2. ECOS calls for federal policy that authorizes EPA to require an assessment of safer alternatives for any priority chemical, including PBTs and very persistent, very bioaccumulative chemicals (whose toxicity may not yet be well understood).

Section 35 of the House bill defines what makes up a “safer alternatives assessment,” providing useful guidance to the states and businesses on standard criteria and a process for identifying safer alternatives to chemicals of concern. However, H.R. 5820 fails to authorize EPA to require an alternatives assessment, as recommended by ECOS. Instead, its leave the discretion with the chemical industry to decide whether or not they wish formally assess the availability of safer alternatives.

If a manufacturer shows that a new chemical intended for the market is a safer alternative for a specific use of an existing chemical, the federal legislation provides for expedited review and approval of the new chemical. H.R. 5820 also provides for less priority attention of existing chemicals that are shown to be safer alternatives for specific uses of other chemicals. Further, when restrictions on chemicals are proposed by EPA, a manufacturer can obtain a temporary exemption for a specific critical use of the chemical if a safer alternative is not yet available, under Section 6(e) of the bill. In each instance, a safer alternatives assessment will provide the essential proof necessary to meet the test.

Federal policymakers would do well to heed the ECOS recommendation to empower EPA to require safer alternatives assessments at its discretion, rather than leave it up to the self-interest of the chemical industry.

Lastly, the ECOS resolution has made the compelling case for a federal-state partnership for managing chemical safety in the United States. Consistent with the proposed federal legislation, the states seek a working collaboration with the federal government. They want to share confidential data on chemicals, jointly prioritize ‘hot spots’ where communities are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals, and to consult and coordinate on other areas of mutual interest. The states also want and deserve federal funding to assist in carrying out their chemical management activities at the state level.

All these state needs are reflected in both the ECOS resolution and in the legislation’s proposed amendment to Section 28 of TSCA regarding state programs.

State leadership on toxic chemicals has helped drive the debate on federal reform and brought the chemical industry to the table for first time in support of TSCA modernization. The ECOS resolution reflects just the latest example of state leadership on safer chemicals policy.

We should honor the state’s authority and role, and harness the energy of state leadership to finally fix our broken federal chemical safety system.

avatar Amanda

Angry Moms>>Hopeful Moms

At the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) hearing today about BPA there was alot of talk about “angry moms”.  As the story now goes- moms found out their baby bottles were toxic, got angry and forced the manufacturers to innovate and flood the shelves with safer bottles.  Yay us!

One can see where the anger comes from right, I mean what parent when faced with the litany of health effects related to exposure to BPA wouldn’t be infuriated at the idea this was being added to the stuff our babies eat and drink from?

As a first real test to the power of Maine’s Kid Safe Products Law (passed in 2008) the BEP is currently considering the proposal on the table- to designate BPA as a priority and phase out the sale of reusable food and drink containers that contain BPA, things like baby bottles and sippy cups.  This is a good thing but it’s largely already been done (by the angry moms- see above!).

What still needs to be done is to get the packages that carry our babies food to lose the BPA.  Maine’s law authorizes the BEP to do this but the rule before them today just fails to take that opportunity.

In my testimony today before the BEP I asked them to use the power they have in the law to regulate food and drink packaging “intentionally marketed or intended for the use of children under 3 years of age”.  This would include formula cans, baby jar lids and plastic baby food containers, toddler foods and foods marketed to toddlers (like the spaghettios pictured here that my 2 1/2 year old daughter Chloe vainly wishes I would break down and buy for her).

Why should they expand the rule?  Well, it’s not all that valuable to be using a BPA free bottle for formula that’s been sitting on the shelf for several months in a BPA laden can.

So I ask you to join me as one of the “hopeful moms” (or Dads, or grandparents, or aunties, etc) gaining strength from the successes we’ve had shifting the market away from toxic baby bottles so quickly and expressing your hope that the BEP will take the opportunity of this rulemaking to get BPA out of our kids food too.

The BEP is accepting comments until August 30th, you can comment here.

You probably already know all you need to to write compelling, important testimony- your sentiment that kids food should be safe is really the gist of it- but if you want more details we have some resources on our site.

EHSC’s testimony from our director Mike

the draft rule

A chart with an outline of the changes we want to the rule

today’s press release about the hearing

and if you haven’t already please “like” EHSC on FaceBook so you can keep informed about developments that are helping us Prevent Harm.

Thanks,

Amanda

avatar Steve

Kids Really Are Growing Up Too Fast

It seems like every generation of parents or grandparents says “kids today are growing up so fast” and bemoans the lost childhood innocence of bygone days. It’s easy to write off these observations as the usual complaints of older generations out of touch with the modern world (whatever the “modern world” happens to be at any given time).

But today I am not feeling so laid back about it. In fact, I’m pretty [expletive deleted] angry at the moment.

It’s apparently not enough that the chemical industry doesn’t test most of its products for health and safety, usually refuses to share information they do have with the public, and opposes any requirements that chemicals meet basic safety standards.

Now some of the chemical industry’s toxic products may be messing with childhood itself.

A brand new study – just published August 9 on the web site of the medical journal “Pediatrics” – documents a dramatic increase of early puberty in girls. Scientists don’t yet know exactly how the different contributing factors (such as genetics and environmental exposures) are contributing to this rise, but we do know that our homes, schools, and workplaces are awash in unrestricted chemicals that disrupt human hormones and affect development. Because of widespread biomonitoring, we also know that we and our children (including many fetuses and just-born infants) carry these chemicals in our bodies at levels known to cause harm.

The best recent science has shown us that certain synthetic chemicals (such as bisphenol A or BPA, currently proposed for action by the state of Maine) disrupt our hormone systems, which help regulate growth, development, and bodily functions. Because these endocrine disrupting chemicals act like hormones in our bodies, tiny exposures can cause major health changes.

We may have just received a wake up call about just how urgently aggressive action on BPA and other hormone disrupting chemicals is needed.

The results of the new study are truly shocking. Early puberty in girls is important in part because it’s linked to an increased risk of breast cancer later in life, and also with lower self-esteem, greater rates of depression, eating problems and suicide attempts.

The study of more than 1,000 girls, conducted at three sites around the country, found that:

  • The rate of early puberty in girls has more than doubled in just over a decade.
  • At least 1 in 10, and as many as 4 in 10, girls in the study had begun developing breasts (the first indication of puberty in many girls) by age 8.
  • 23% (almost 1 in 4) seven year old black girls experiences early maturation, along with 15% of Hispanic girls and 10% of white girls.
  • Among eight year olds, 18% of white girls, almost a third of Hispanic girls, and 43% of black girls had some breast tissue.

So here’s the big question. With early puberty in girls increasing so dramatically, and so much at stake, why, in the name of whatever higher power or universal life force you believe in, would we continue to allow proven hormone disrupting chemicals to be used in everyday consumer products that expose young girls to these dangerous substances when safer alternatives are available?

Many of you already know the answer. Our national chemical safety system is broken, and while many states like Maine are acting, the chemical industry and many manufacturing companies and trade associations continue to oppose any actions to protect our children from dangerous chemicals.

But really what I’d like to know is this: What are you going to do about it?

Right now, Maine has the opportunity to join several other states in banning BPA in all reusable food and beverage containers (including baby bottles and sippy cups). The proposed action on BPA under our Kid-Safe Products Act would also require manufacturers of other products (such as infant formula packaging, toys, child care articles and tableware) to report whether they use BPA in their products and, in the case of infant formula packaging, research whether safer alternatives are available.

This month, the Board of Environmental Protection is accepting public comments on the proposal to start getting BPA out of the products that expose our children.

But this isn’t going to be easy. The companies that make and use BPA have shown up in force everywhere else BPA restrictions have been proposed to defend their profits, and we expect them here in Maine as well.

YOU can make the difference.

Sign up here to attend the public hearing in Augusta on Thursday, August 19 at 1:00 PM. (We’ll send you directions, materials, and a reminder.)

If you can’t attend the public hearing, you can still submit a formal written comment by August 30. All the comments will be copied and summarized for every Board member.

Submit a comment online.

avatar volunteer

Chemical Security and You!

Wouldn’t it be awful to learn that a chemical plant or drinking water facility  in an American city had become the target of a terrorist attack?  That’s exactly why people are talking about chemical security.  We need to make sure that such facilities are as safe as possible – in order to keep workers and communities out of harm’s way.

There are currently two bills moving forward in the U.S. Senate aimed at addressing issues around securing chemical facilities and wastewater and drinking water sites (the House has already put forth legislation to do this- H.R. 2868).

This week, a bill introduced by Maine’s own Senator Susan Collins, which would simply extend for five years the existing, temporary chemical security program (CFATS), was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and will now be sent to the full chamber.

Meanwhile, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has introduced two related chemical facility security bills (S. 3598 and S. 3599) that would improve upon the temporary CFATS, and aim to strengthen security and reduce the consequences of a catastrophic accident or terrorist attack, in part by instituting Inherently Safer Techonologies(IHT).

The idea behind using safer technologies is pretty simple – the safer the processes used by chemical and water treatment plants, the lower the risk posed by any eventual attack or industrial accident to surrounding communities and workers.

Basically, it would come down to using chemicals that are considered less dangerous.  For example, chlorine gas, which is used in chemical facilities, is a potent respiratory irritant. In sufficient concentration, the gas irritates the mucous membranes, the respiratory tract and the eyes. In extreme cases difficulty in breathing may increase to the point where death can occur from respiratory collapse or lung failure.  Inherently safer technology practices would require substituting safer chemicals for chlorine gas, that would cause less harm if released.

Senator Collins has argued against requiring chemical plants to use safer chemicals and technologies, stating, “Why should the federal government attempt to dictate to companies the best way to manufacture their products?”

At EHSC, we hear this question, usually posed by chemical industry lobbyists, quite often when we’re fighting to get toxic chemicals out of everyday products.  Our answer?

  • Safer processes and safer chemicals protect the health and well-being of every American.
  • Safer technologies drive innovation and the economy by creating lucrative opportunities for sustainable business and design.
  • Safer products mean healthier people – and that creates significant savings in reduced healthcare costs

Now that’s what we call security!