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Five steps backward with the chemical lobby bill

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The industry-backed Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 could be worse for the public than the law now on the books — the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

The Toxic Substances Control Act is the last and weakest of the environmental laws enacted in the early 1970s. A fractious Congress under intense pressure from chemical interests patched it together and sent it to a demoralized White House in the waning days of the lame-duck Ford administration. It has never been amended, and it has resulted in very little protection of public health.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act, introduced May 22, would be worse than the 1976 law in a number of critical areas.  It would fail to fix most of the problematic features of current law and would make only minimal positive change.

Here are five ways the chemical industry bill protects public health less than current law:

  1. Companies would be granted virtual immunity from lawsuits once the Environmental Protection Agency gives a chemical its blessing.
  1. A state's ability to regulate a chemical would be almost completely restricted. As EWG executive director Heather White points out in a blog headlined What the Chemical Lobby Wants, an EPA finding that a chemical met the safety standard would prevent judges and juries from assessing other relevant evidence, particularly new information developed after EPA made its determination. States would be thwarted from enacting their own, more rigorous protections for public health.
  1. More chemical information would be kept secret. Under current law, a chemical maker cannot claim that the name of a chemical is “confidential business information” — a trade secret — when it appears in health and safety studies. There is a relatively narrow exception for chemical names that would disclose the process used to manufacture the chemical. The CSIA would substantially broaden that loophole, allowing the industry to keep secret chemical names and other identifying data even when studies indicate these substances are unsafe.  
  1. Companies would not be held responsible for most chemical testing expenses.  The 1976 law permitted the EPA to require a company submitting test information and manufacture and processing notices to pay up to $2,500 to cover some of the agency’s costs.  In reality, the EPA’s evaluations and safety reviews cost far more. Inflation has greatly eroded the value of the fees EPA collects.  The CSIA would preserve that low fee structure — forcing taxpayers to fork over most of the money for thorough chemical safety assessments. 
  1. The EPA would have little authority to regulate new technology such as nanomaterials. Changing the size and shape of nanomaterials can greatly alter their degree of danger to health and the environment, yet current law gives the agency no power to differentiate between these particles and materials of ordinary size.  The CSIA offers no improvement, even though scientists have learned much more about these materials since the 1970s.

EWG’s mission is to ensure that all Americans —  children, pregnant women, workers and everyone else —  can rest assured that the products they use and the chemicals to which they are exposed are safe.

Legislation that offers nothing more than 40 more years of the same weak protections from dangerous chemicals is not a starting point.

For more detail on how the Chemical Safety Improvement Act stacks up against current law and various reform proposals, here are some useful resources:

 

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