Important Update About Regulation of Toxic Chemicals

annie sartorBy Annie Sartor, Policy and Campaigns Coordinator

The United States is in desperate need of chemical policy reform. Currently, United States rules and regulations around chemicals introduced into the marketplace and our daily lives are governed by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a piece of legislation from the 1970s. In the 30-odd years since TSCA’s adoption, the bill has proven woefully ineffective at ensuring that the chemicals we’re all exposed to every day are safe. Only 200 of the over 100,000 chemicals used and produced in the U.S. have been tested for safety.

For years, Breast Cancer Action has been demanding chemical reform to ensure that the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products we purchase don’t increase our risk of developing breast cancer or other health harms. We believe that the Precautionary Principal should guide any meaningful legislation, and that the burden of proof should fall on industry to demonstrate that chemicals are safe — well before they reach the general population.

We are committed to ensuring that the strongest legislation to regulate toxic chemicals move forward, and we are closely monitoring and analyzing new legislation that was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate.

TakeActionThe late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), along with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), introduced a bill in late May to reform TSCA. The new bill, titled the “Chemical Safety Improvement Act,” has 14 cosponsors and represents a bipartisan agreement to modernize chemical policy in the United States. This bill is a compromise package in response to the Safe Chemicals Act, which was also introduced in the Senate earlier this spring by Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and which has 29 cosponsors and the support of environmental and public health organizations, including Breast Cancer Action. However, no Republican would cosponsor the Safe Chemicals Act, perhaps because of its sweeping protections for public health?

After an initial review of the proposed legislation, we have many concerns about the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) as it is currently written.

First and foremost, the Safe Chemicals Act puts the burden of proof for chemical safety on industry rather than government regulators. The Chemical Safety Improvement Act tasks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with proving that a chemical is toxic instead of tasking industry with proving that chemicals are safe. In addition, the status quo of chemical regulation, which assumes that chemicals are safe until proven to be a toxic health hazard, would be maintained. This approach to chemical regulation often means that chemicals linked to health hazards, such as lead or BPA, are restricted or banned only after many years or even decades on the market. Truly effective chemical regulation would upend these approaches to chemical safety by ensuring that industry is responsible for proving chemical safety rather than government regulators and insisting that chemicals are proven safe before they reach the marketplace.

It is also concerning that the CSIA does not include any special focus for communities heavily impacted by chemical exposures. Some communities or neighborhoods carry a disproportionate burden of this country’s toxic load, and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act lacks even basic requirements to protect people living in or near such chemical “hot spots.”

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act does give the EPA new powers to take action on unsafe chemicals that range from labeling requirements to the full phaseout or ban of a harmful or toxic chemical. However, this bill would also give the EPA authority to preempt state or municipal efforts to regulate toxic chemicals, essentially weakening existing state and local regulations that offer strong protection from toxins. This “preemptive” provision means that the Chemical Safety Improvement Act could actually leave many people with weaker chemical regulation than currently exists.

For all of the above reasons, Breast Cancer Action is opposed to the Chemical Safety Improvement Act as it is currently written. We intend to mobilize and take action to demand significant changes to the Chemical Safety Improvement Act so that it addresses all our concerns, and protects people and planet from toxic exposures. We hope you’ll join us in this fight.

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