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New “Chemical Safety” Bill Would Put People at Greater Risk

Thursday, September 12, 2013

There’s a growing consensus – except in the chemical industry and among its lobbyists and allies in Congress – that when it comes to protecting people and the environment from dangerous chemicals, the latest proposal to “reform” the nation’s outdated toxics law is a step in exactly the wrong direction.

Researchers at the Center for Progressive Reform see the problem much the way EWG does. CPR member scholars Thomas O. McGarity and Wendy E. Wagner laid out their concerns about the bill in an op-ed this week on the Capitol Hill news site Roll Call. Their piece follows on the detailed analysis published recently by two other experts at the Center in “Reforming TSCA: Progressive Principles for Toxic Risk Regulation.” In it, member scholar Noah Sachs and Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz shed considerable light on the dangers posed by the “Chemical Safety Improvement Act” now pending in the Senate.

There’s widespread agreement that the current law regulating chemicals, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), fails to protect us from dangerous substances, and the Center’s researchers make a convincing case that the new bill will hurt us more than it will help. They identify some of the law’s most desperately needed reforms: improved chemical testing, deadlines for EPA action on chemical safety, a stronger safety standard and assurance that federal policy doesn’t preempt state regulation or the ability of those harmed by toxic substances to sue for compensation. As the Center’s analysis makes clear, the pending bill fails to adequately address any of these crucial requirements. Here’s why:

“Safe” until demonstrated dangerous: Under current law, chemicals are assumed to be safe until they’re proven hazardous, and it is the Environmental Protection Agency, not the chemical companies, that must demonstrate that a chemical is harmful. As Sachs and Shudtz point out, EPA’s efforts to prove that potentially toxic chemicals are dangerous enough to regulate have been stymied by the agency’s inability to gather vital health and safety information and its lack of authority to act to protect the public.

EPA has been unable to ban even asbestos, a known human carcinogen responsible for at least 10,000 deaths each year in the U.S. The Center’s analysis finds that the proposed legislation would actually add seven pages of procedural findings and obligations to EPA’s existing requirements for determining whether a chemical is safe. The bill’s approach to chemical safety is unacceptable – we need to reinforce EPA’s ability to assess safety, not make the process more difficult and ultimately put people and the environment at greater risk.  

Undermining state laws and protections for toxic tort victims: The new bill would largely invalidate laws that a number of states have passed to protect their citizens from toxic chemicals. Furthermore, Sachs and Shudtz write, “The CSIA would also put unprecedented restrictions on state courts, making EPA safety determinations automatically admissible in any private litigation and declaring them ‘determinative of whether the [chemical at issue] meets the safety standard under the conditions of use addressed in the safety determination.’” This means that under the new proposal, many victims of toxic chemical exposure may be stymied in court if they sue. We cannot allow an approach to toxics regulation that fails to protect people from harmful chemicals and then prevents victims from being compensated.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act is not the answer to the nation’s weak regulation of toxic chemicals. In the words of our friends at the Center for Progressive Reform, “the cure for TSCA needs to be better than the original legislation.”

We at EWG couldn’t agree more.

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