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June 3, 2013Safety from Toxic Chemicals? Not For All;

 New “Chemical Safety Improvement Act” (CSIA) lacks adequate protection

Contact: Stephenie Hendricks, (415) 258-9151, shendricks@comingcleaninc.org

(Washington, DC) A letter was received today by Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and others asking for true protections for health in the new Senate engagement for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). On May 22, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) (S. 1009) was introduced in the United States Senate to update the failed TSCA framework. 

The CSIA has been hailed by some as an example of bipartisan compromise, but public health experts, community advocates, small business owners, environmental justice leaders, scientists, workers, and parents are calling on Congress to strengthen the bill and provide real protections from toxic chemicals in homes, schools, and workplaces. 

Advocates argue that the Safe Chemicals Act, which Senator Lautenberg authored and introduced earlier this year, best protects the most vulnerable people and the most impacted communities. 

“The petrochemicals industry should not be allowed to draft the very laws meant to regulate them,” comments Richard Moore Coordinator with Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, also with the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance.“It is unacceptable that the chemical industry was able to remove a section in the Safe Chemicals Act designed to protect ‘hot spots’ or ‘sacrifice zones’ - communities suffering the longest and most severely from toxic chemicals. We worked so hard on this legislation. How can we go back to our communities and tell them they’re going to have to keep waiting, and that their health will continue to be affected, and they will keep on dying from exposure to toxic chemicals? It’s deeply disappointing for those suffering the most from chemical exposure – this is the reality for many of us in communities of color. Our children and our communities will keep on being the Canaries in the Coal Mine if this chemical industry driven bill is not amended and made safe for everyone.”

“What was clear was the focus on communities in Senator Lautenberg’s tireless advocacy for strengthening environmental laws,” said Louisiana attorney and Co-Director of Advocates for Environmental Human RightsMonique Harden, Esq.. “He understood that what makes our hyper-technical environmental laws inadequate and ineffective is that they neither prevent nor remedy the human suffering caused by exposure to the myriad of toxic chemicals daily released by industrial facilities, each one carrying the ever-present risk of an accident that can kill and severely injure people living or working nearby.”

Jose Bravo, Executive Director of the Just Transition Alliance, explains, “Since the industrial revolution communities of color and poor people have experienced the disproportionate brunt of toxic pollution and have been forced to accept dangerous and often catastrophic consequences. Fenceline and frontline communities and frontline workers are left to fend for themselves with this proposed chemical industry driven toxic legislation. We at the Just Transition Alliance do not support this currently proposed bill as written. 

Health, community, and workers advocates are supporting Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D –CA) call to “go back and look at [the Safe Chemicals Act], look at the new bill, and put forward a bill that will be adequate for his memory." The advocates seek to address critical deficiencies in the bill that would stall or block state and federal actions to provide meaningful protections against toxic chemical exposures, by supporting amendments to: 

1. Allow EPA to quickly initiate action on the worst chemicals: persistent, bioaccumulative toxicants (PBTs). 

2. Protect the most vulnerable among us, including children, the elderly, pregnant women and people of childbearing age, those individuals with learning and/or developmental disabilities, those who are ill or predisposed to illness, workers, and communities where people of color and low income people are forced to bear multiple chemical exposures. Ensure environmental justice.

3. Hold industry responsible for demonstrating chemical safety and paying for the review of their products.

4. Enhance government coordination, including maintaining the ability of the states to enact stronger chemical policies than the federal government.

5. Promote safer alternatives to toxic chemicals and incentivize innovation into safer chemicals and green chemistry.

6. Ensure the Right to Know and Right to Act about chemical hazards and exposures for the public, workers, and the marketplace.

7. Require that safety assessments of chemicals and exposure reduction to toxics be based on a minimum set of the best science and methods. 

States must be allowed to protect their residents

As currently written the CSIA will play a dangerous and ever present roll in stopping the the progress of state governments to protect their residents from hazardous chemical exposures where the federal government has failed to act for over three decades. The industry bill preserves a weak and inadequate safety standard, and may actually be worse than current law because, unlike most environmental laws, CSIA would make the federal law the ceiling for possible regulatory action, rather than the floor from which states can add protections for their citizens. Thus CSIA would bar states from enacting their own laws in most cases – even if the federal government has not taken any action, or even completed a safety assessment, on a chemical. And it could pre-empt state laws already in effect and set in stone a bad deal for states and families that could last for generations. 

“States are national policy laboratories, and state policy advancement creates a tipping point for federal reform,” says Kathy Curtis, LPN, Executive Director, Clean & Healthy New York. “Under the CSIA, successful state-level efforts to regulate chemicals in New York, California, Washington, Maine and elsewhere will be largely pre-empted. Further, states’ ability to act to protect their residents from toxic chemicals in the future will be severely limited. Attaching any state pre-emption to a weak regulatory policy constitutes the worst of both worlds.”

Deadlines are missing from the CSIA

The CSIA would not set any deadlines for federal action, or even for safety assessment of “high priority” chemicals. Instead, the bill contains vague phrases like "from time to time" or "in a timely manner." The lack of deadlines will delay or stall action to protect public health from even the most harmful chemicals, especially in an environment where federal agencies are already starved for funds.

“It is shocking that this new legislation purports to improve 'safety' from toxic chemicals when there are no deadlines for assessing and restricting chemicals and no criteria for prioritizing bioaccumulative, persistent and toxic chemicals,” said Heather White, Executive Director of Environmental Working Group. “The EPA would have virtually no increased authority to protect us from dangerous chemicals in this bill, and there would be lots of new loopholes for industry to slip through to delay action.”

The CSIA sacrifices the people most vulnerable to health impacts from chemicals

The CSIA’s safety standard is weak and does not require EPA to protect children, pregnant women, workers who encounter toxic chemicals every day, those already experiencing ill health or impacted with developmental or learning disabilities, and those residing in low income and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by multiple chemical exposures currently and from historical or “legacy” pollution. The safety standard does not require EPA to consider total sources of exposure either in an average day or over a lifetime. Instead of requiring that chemicals be shown likely to do no harm to these populations, the industry bill would make safety determinations based on whether a substance presents an “unreasonable risk.” This could require a cost-benefit analysis that pits corporate profits against the health and well being of the majority of Americans (even when safer chemicals are already available and could be used instead).

“Lower IQs, infertility, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and many other health impacts arelinked to contamination from unregulated chemicals. Yet this new bill puts a ‘gag order’ on doctors and nurses to prevent reporting on health impacts from chemical exposure, which will no doubt block important public health research and protections for the public. comments Ana Mascareñas, Policy and Communications Coordinator, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles.

Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM, Director of Programs with Alliance of Nurses for a Healthy Environment, concurs, “We believe it is imperative for a physician or nurse to be able to readily know the identity of a chemical suspected of causing illness, and that it is their imperative to raise awareness to the public about health impacts they see linked to chemical exposure. The ‘confidentiality’ order must be removed from this legislation.”

“We must stop throwing kids under the ‘toxic exposure’ bus,” said Eric Uram, Executive Director at SafeMinds. “With more and more children being diagnosed with impairments linked to neurotoxic substances, improvements to CSIA that protect the brain from toxic chemical impacts – especially during early development - are urgently needed.”

Stephen Boese, Executive Director of Learning Disabilities Association of New York says, “This is not a bill to prevent disability and protect American's health and safety, this is a bill to protect markets for those who manufacture and sell poisonous products."

“There are no provisions in this legislation that explicitly protect pregnant women and children from toxic chemicals,” said Ansje Mille, Eastern States Director for Center for Environmental Health. “Yet these are the people most in harm’s way from our ubiquitous chemicals exposure in products and the environment.”

“Persistent chemicals manufactured and used in the United States drift north on wind and ocean currents and accumulate in the traditional foods and bodies of indigenous Arctic people,” explains Pam Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “Our people have high rates of birth defects and other health problems linked to chemical exposure. Protections can’t come too soon for us here in Alaska—we need a strong bill that will protect our fisheries, traditional foods, and the health of our people.”

Research and investment for safer chemicals is absent from the CSIA

The Safe Chemicals Act specifically supported Green Chemistry and Engineering research and development, but these provisions are absent from the CSIA. Incentives are crucial to spur the innovation necessary to create safer chemicals, which in turn will grow business and create jobs. Assessment of safer alternatives by manufacturers is critical to identifying safe replacements to harmful chemicals, but is also absent from the CSIA.

Independent polling has shown that small businesses want reforms that will enable their growth. A poll of small business owners – 47% Republican, 27% Democratic and 23% independent – found that 92% support regulations to protect air and water from toxic chemicals and nearly three out of four support requirements for chemical manufacturers to show that their chemicals are safe and disclose toxic chemicals. Under the CSIA, companies would be allowed to keep secret the names and other identifying features of their chemicals when submitting health and safety data to the EPA. This cloak of confidentiality prevents business and consumer awareness and choice and undermines public confidence and private investment.

Jamie McConnell, Director of Programs and Policy with Women’s Voices for the Earth explains, ”We’re concerned that pregnant women and other vulnerable populations would not be adequately protect under this bill and often it is these populations that are most impacted by exposure to toxic chemicals.

“The production, storage and use of toxic chemicals also creates catastrophic hazards and security vulnerabilities. Obsolete regulations have also contributed to chemical disasters such as the deadly April 17th fertilizer explosion in West, Texas that claimed 14 lives,” adds Rick Hind, Legislative Director for Greenpeace.“ Comprehensive chemical policy reform means addressing all the flaws and loopholes in our chemical policies. Those flaws have failed to prevent dangerous and untested chemicals from contaminating our workplaces, communities and environment for decades. S. 1009 is reform in name only. It would do little to eliminate the flaws or close the loopholes in our chemical regulations and that’s why the chemical lobby supports it.”

“The U.S. federal policy has to be as least as strong as the chemical regulations policy in the European Union and Canada,” says Bev Thorpe, Communications Director and Partner, Clean Production Action. “Identifying safer chemicals for products and promoting innovation in green chemistry must be a priority for the TSCA reform legislation. Otherwise, we could end up with the weakest national chemical policy of any developed nation.”

Advocates are united to strengthen the CSIA

Advocates note the CSIA proposes a few steps in the right direction—steps the industry itself finally has been forced to admit are failings in current law. It would give the EPA some authority to review existing chemicals and order a company to submit chemical test data that would help the agency assess the safety of the substance in question. Otherwise, the CSIA doesn’t go far enough and advocates are united in calling for its immediate strengthening 

Jeanne Rizzo, RN, President of Breast Cancer Fund says, “TSCA reform must go much further to protect scientific integrity from undue industry influence, and must allow for the Environmental Protection Agency to take fast action on the worst chemicals that threaten human health. The law should guarantee that the public has access to information regarding the safety of chemicals; that the onus is on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate chemicals are safe before they are allowed to enter the marketplace; and that the federal government invests in developing safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.”

Additional Resources

Environmental Justice & Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform

Breast Cancer Fund

Center for Effective Government

Center for Environmental Health

Environmental Working Group

Natural Resources Defense Council 

Monique Harden ‘s Blog

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

Available for Comment

Stephen Boese; Former Executive Director, Learning Disabilities Association of New York State; (518) 608-8992, sboese@ldanys.org.

Jose Bravo; Director, Just Transition Alliance; National Coordinator, Campaign for Healthier Solutions; (619) 838-6694, jose@comingcleaninc.org. Jose works with communities contaminated with chemicals, which occurs mostly where low income people of color are living, although everyone is at risk.  Habla Espanol.

Gigi Lee Chang; CEO, Healthy Child Healthy World; (310) 820-3020, gigi@healthychild.org. Gigi can address what this means for our children's health and how parents should reach out to their elected officials asking for a stronger CSIA.

Lin Kaatz Chary, PhD, MPH; Clean & Healthy Indiana; Formerly of Indiana Toxics Action; (219) 938-0209, lchary@sbcglobal.net.

Dorothy Felix; Mossville Environmental Action Now; (337) 882-8078, mossville4ej@yahoo.com. Dorothy can tell about how Senator Vitter’s own state of Louisiana has among the highest cancer rates in the nation from chemical exposures and unprotected communities.  

Kathleen A. Curtis, LPN; Executive Director, Clean & Healthy New York; Former Policy Director, Clean New York, a project of Women's Voices for the Earth; Co-Coordinator, Workgroup for Public Policy Reform, Coming Clean; (518) 355-6202, kathy@cleanhealthyny.org. Kathy can address efforts in New York state, the importance of states to be able to have their own strong chemicals policies, and can talk about national work to reform TSCA and chemical regulations for safer chemicals in general.   

Monique Harden, Esq.; Co-Director and Attorney, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights; (504) 799-3060, mharden@ehumanrights.org. Monique is an attorney with expertise on human rights and environmental legislation and judicial decisions in the U.S. and abroad. Her organization’s litigation on behalf of African American residents of Mossville, LA has led to a precedent by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, which decided for the first time to take jurisdiction over a case of environmental racism in the United States.

Rick Hind; Legislative Director, Greenpeace; (202) 319-2445, rick.hind@greenpeace.org. Rick is an expert on chemical policy and how weak regulations contributed to the tragedies in West, Texas and elsewhere in communities impacted by chemical disasters.

Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM; Director of Programs, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments; Co-Coordinator, Workgroup for Public Policy Reform, Coming Clean; (240) 753-3729, katie@envirn.org. Katie can address nurses’ involvement in national work on safer chemicals and specifically chemical impacts to the health of women and infants, and the de facto "gag order" on nurses and doctors in the CSIA.

David Levine; CEO and Co-Founder, American Sustainable Business Council; (917) 359-9623, dlevine@asbcouncil.org. David can address Green Chemistry and business incentives for safer chemicals that were left out of the CSIA.

Ana Mascareñas; Policy & Communications Coordinator, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles ; (213) 689-9170, amascarenas@psr-la.org. Ana can address the de facto “gag order” on health care providers to prevent their public disclosure of concerns about the health impacts from chemicals on their patients and others.

Jamie McConnell; Director of Programs and Policy, Women's Voices for the Earth ; (406) 543-3747, jamies@womensvoices.org. Jamie can address how regulatory failure has contributed to toxic chemicals in products we use every day, and what needs to be in TSCA reform to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.

Ansje Miller; Eastern States Director, Center for Environmental Health; (212) 689-6999. Ansje can address the potential chilling effect of CSIA on California’s progressive policies related to chemicals.

Pam Miller; Founder and Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics; (907) 222-7714, pamela@akaction.org. Pam can address the drift of POPs chemicals from lower hemispheres, putting Indigenous peoples in the Arctic at great risk for illness from chemical contaminants and can also address the several hundred toxic waste dump sites, now leaking chemicals due to global warming, and contaminating water, soil and air near communities. 

Vi Waghiyi; Environmental Health and Justice Program Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics; (907) 222-7714 . Vi can speak to the shocking chemical test results of the St. Lawrence Island, Alaska traditional foods and human health bio-monitoring results of Alaska native people.

Richard Moore; Los Jardines Institute; Co-Chair, Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform; (505) 301-0276, ljinewmexico@gmail.com. Richard can discuss the failure of the CSIA to include so called “hot spots,” and the health impacts on workers and communities from chemicals exposure.

Janet Nudelman; Director of Program and Policy, Breast Cancer Fund. Janet has been extensively involved in working toward restrictions on harmful chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates.  To arrange an interview contact Shannon Coughlin, (415) 336-2245, scoughlin@breastcancerfund.org.

Juan Parras; Executive Director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services; (281) 513-7799, parras.juan@gmail.com. Juan can address the issue of chemically impacted communities in the Houston Ship Channel area, the prevalence of disease and premature death in this area, and the urgent need for real TSCA reform.

Jeanne Rizzo, RN; CEO and President, Breast Cancer Fund. To schedule an interview with Jeanne please contact Margie Kelly at nyc.margie@gmail.com and (541) 222-9699, or Shannon Coughlin at (415) 336-2246 and scoughlin@breastcancerfund.org.

Michele Roberts; Co-Coordinator, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform; (202) 704-7593, mroberts@comingcleaninc.org. Michele can discuss the problem with removing so-called “hot spots” protection from chemical reform legislation and also tell about the issues in Mossville, Louisiana, and elsewhere where people are pointing to chemicals exposure as their source of their illnesses.

Susan D. Shaw, PhD; President and Founder, Marine Environmental Research Institute ; Environmental Toxicologist and Professor, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, SUNY, Albany; (207) 374-2135, info@meriresearch.org. Susan can address threats of new chemicals designed to replace older ones, for example flame retardants are potentially just as as toxic and not evaluated for health impacts before use. Firefighters should be included as a vulnerable population - her new research shows elevated rates of several cancers thought to be related to their exposure to carcinogenic dioxins and furans while firefighting.

Beverley Thorpe; Consulting, Co-Director, Clean Production Action; Co-Coordinator, Workgroup for Safe Markets, Coming Clean; bev@cleanproduction.org. Bev can address the comparison of U.S. chemicals policy with the policies in Canada and the European Union, and tools that help businesses identify safer chemicals for their products. 

Eric Uram; SafeMinds; (608) 233-9022, eric.uram@safeminds.org. Eric can address the proliferation of neurotoxic chemicals in our environment and corresponding rising rates of neurodevelopmental health impacts such as autism, learning disabilities and more.

Heather White; Executive Director, Environmental Working Group; (202) 667-6982.

 

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