From bisphenol A (BPA) to flame retardants and beyond, industrial chemicals that have troubling connections to a host of human health problems and are widely used in consumer products came under tough scrutiny before a U.S. Senate hearing this week (Feb. 4).
New Jersey Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D) called top government officials and national experts from the environmental community to testify before the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, which he chairs. The central topic was biomonitoring and the importance of determining what chemicals are turning up in people, particularly in children.
Among those who testified was Kenneth A. Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), who delivered a condensed version of a powerful presentation that he has given to policymakers, opinion leaders and large audiences of ordinary Americans worried about their families’ exposures to toxic chemicals. The “Ten Americans” presentation chronicles the results of EWG’s pioneering studies of umbilical cord blood, which have shown that newborns come into the world “pre-polluted” with hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals whose effects are largely unknown.
These findings, Cook said, highlight the inadequacies of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the urgency of reforming the system by passing the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act (Kid-Safe).
“Mr. Chairman, the science of human exposure to toxic chemicals is exploding,” said Cook. “You write your new legislation to fix the many problems of the Toxic Substances Control Act at a watershed moment in the science of understanding what we’re exposed to and what it might mean.”
Lautenberg told the packed hearing room he intends soon to re-introduce his bill to overhaul the outdated law, an effort he began in 2005 when he introduced the Kid-Safe bill. He offered it again during the last Congress.
“Just by calling your bill the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act you have invited tens of millions of people to understand, in a way they never would have before, that this debate is not abstract,” Cook said. “It doesn’t involve smokestacks in the distance or in another town or in another part of the world. It involves them.”
Invoking his own family, which includes 10 grandchildren, Sen. Lautenberg cited a grandson who suffers from asthma and a granddaughter who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as the driving force behind his efforts to fix the nation’s chemicals regulation system.
“I keep a picture of them in my mind everyday when I go to work, because among the things I do here is I keep the focus on children. And nothing is more painful than to see children with a disease that debilitates them and not be able to do the things that healthy children should be able to do,” Lautenberg said at the conclusion of Cook’s testimony.