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Three Ways the Industry-Backed Chemical Bill Fails

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act introduced in May lacks key reforms considered critical during earlier Congressional efforts to protect people from dangerous industrial chemicals.  The gold standard is the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, introduced in 2005 by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.  This bill is the pivotal legislation that launched the chemical reform movement in the 21st Century.

Three examples comparing that and the new legislation show just how much public health and the environment stand to lose.  

1.  Under the safety standard in the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, the EPA would ensure that chemicals were generally safe -- that people would not be harmed by exposure to these chemicals. In technical terms, the act says a chemical must present “reasonable certainty that no harm will be caused by aggregate exposure...”

The safety standard in the Chemical Safety Improvement Act has subtle differences in wording that would force dramatic changes in the real world.  It says the Environmental Protection Agency would decide that “no unreasonable risk of harm to human health or the environment will result from exposure to a chemical.”  This language would require the EPA to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. A chemical could cause some harm, but if the risk were considered “reasonable,” it could still go on the market. 

2.  The Kid Safe Chemicals Act would require chemical manufacturers who wanted to introduce a new chemical to market to submit data to the EPA showing that a new chemical was safe.   They could not market that chemical until the agency determined that it met the safety standard.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act would require manufacturers to submit safety data to the EPA  -- but it has a catch that favors the industry.   If EPA did not have enough information to decide that the substance in question posed an “unreasonable risk,” the chemical could go on the market anyway.  Human safety would not be a priority.

3.   The Kid Safe Chemicals Act took special care to consider the effects of chemicals on children, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and other particularly vulnerable populations.  It mentioned children 20 times and the fetus and infants a dozen times.

Vulnerable people aren’t mentioned at all in the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. This omission is glaring.  The bill represents a complete retreat from the focus of past bills on how to best protect children and other vulnerable populations.  Many studies, including EWG research on umbilical cord blood, have shown that babies are being born already polluted with dangerous chemicals.

Any bill that calls itself “chemical reform” has to protect children in critical windows development and others who are especially susceptible to harm.  If it doesn’t, it fails to do its job. 

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