The United States is in desperate need of chemical policy reform. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was introduced in the 1970s and guides our countries rules and regulations around chemicals introduced into the marketplace and our daily lives. In the 30-odd years since TSCA’s adoption, it has proven woefully ineffective at ensuring that the chemicals that we are all exposed to every day are indeed safe, as evidenced by the fact that only 200 of the over 100,000 chemicals used and produced in the US have been tested for safety.
Breast Cancer Action has been working for years demanding chemical reform that ensures that the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products we purchase don’t cause 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 – before they reach the public.
Because of our commitment to passing strong legislation to regulate toxic chemicals, we are closely monitoring and analyzing new legislation that was recently introduced in the US Senate.
Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Vitter (R-LA) have introduced a bill to reform this country’s grossly outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The “Chemical Safety Improvement Act” has 14 co-sponsors 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 no Republican would co-sponsor.
While it is too early to know whether this bill has a chance at approval and adoption, after an initial review of the proposed legislation, we have many concerns about it. The Chemical Safety Improvement Act, as currently written, is quite a lot weaker than the Safe Chemicals Act which was introduced earlier this spring by Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Gillibrand (D-NY), and which has 29 co-sponsors and the support of environmental and public health organizations – including Breast Cancer Action.
It’s great to see that that chemical policy reform is a priority for this Congress, but we won’t settle for a watered down version of the chemical reform we desperately need. We will continue to demand the strongest legislation to protect public health and the environment– and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act needs a lot of work before it protects public health like the Safe Chemicals Act.
This new bill was drafted and introduced without input from organizations that have worked for years to regulate toxic chemicals in our daily lives, including BCAction, and this lack of input is clear in several key aspects of the bill:
- Where the Safe Chemicals Act puts the burden of proof for chemical safety on industry, rather than government regulators, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act once again tasks the EPA with proving that a chemical is toxic instead of tasking industry with proving that chemicals are safe. The status quo of assuming chemicals are innocent until proven guilty would thus be maintained, which is unacceptable to us. We should not be responsible for proving chemicals are toxic – industry should be required to prove their products are safe BEFORE they are on the shelves and in our homes.
- The Chemical Safety Improvement Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new powers to take action on chemicals found to be unsafe, ranging from labeling requirements to the full phase-out or ban of a chemical. However, it appears that this bill could give the EPA authority to pre-empt state or municipal efforts to regulate toxic chemicals – essentially weakening strong state and local regulations of toxins, significantly reducing protections for people living in cities or states that have prioritized minimizing chemical exposures. We want strong protection from toxic chemicals for everyone and don’t want years-long efforts for chemical safety diluted by this bill.
- We are very concerned that the Chemical Safety Improvement Act does not include any special focus for communities heavily impacted by chemical exposures. The Safe Chemicals Act allows for expedited action to restrict known persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals in “hot spot” communities – an important provision that we believe is critical to any proposed chemical regulation. Some communities are carrying a disproportionate burden of this country’s toxic load and we will not allow them to be left in the dust by watered-down legislation. .
We know that the Safe Chemicals Act is a stronger bill and will do more to protect the health of people and the planet. We will continue to hold out for the strongest chemical safety reform, based on the precautionary principle of public health, and we need your help. Ask your Senators to support the Safe Chemicals Act for strong regulations of toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases.