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EPA Chief Announces Sweeping Reforms for Toxic Chemicals

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has announced historic plans to overhaul federal toxic chemicals controls, with more rigorous testing and safety standards and greater EPA authority to protect the public.

“Administrator Jackson’s commitment to reforms that can truly protect children and other sensitive people is nothing less than historic,” said Ken Cook, co-founder and president of Environmental Working Group (EWG). “As analyses of umbilical cord blood show, American infants are being born with hundreds of industrial chemicals, pesticides and other pollutants already in their bodies. These children are living proof that the current law, a relic of the Ford administration’s waning days, is worse than useless.”

The Obama administration’s principles, which Jackson outlined yesterday, embrace positions long advocated by environmentalists, federal and state lawmakers who back reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 and, for the first time, by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Consumer Specialty Products Association.

An influential new coalition of environmental and public health organizations, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, announced a bold new platform for TSCA reform earlier this year.

Jackson has called for:

• Chemicals should be reviewed against risk-based safety standards based on sound science and protective of human health and the environment • Manufacturers should provide EPA with the necessary information to conclude that new and existing chemicals are safe and do not endanger public health or the environment • EPA should have clear authority to take risk management actions when chemicals do not meet the safety standard, with flexibility to take into account sensitive subpopulations, costs, social benefits, equity and other relevant considerations. • Manufacturers and EPA should assess and act on priority chemicals, both existing and new, in a timely manner • Green Chemistry should be encouraged and provisions assuring Transparency and Public Access to Information should be strengthened. • EPA should be given a sustained source of funding for implementation

Several of the principles set forth by Jackson and the president mirror sections of the landmark Food Quality and Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA) that has successfully reduced the public’s exposure to harmful pesticides by measures such as considering particularly vulnerable populations like children when assessing a chemical’s risk.

In her speech last night in San Francisco, Administrator Jackson referenced an EWG umbilical cord blood study conducted a few years back. Jackson said:

“A 2005 study found 287 different chemicals in the cord blood of 10 newborn babies – chemicals from pesticides, fast food packaging, coal and gasoline emissions, and trash incineration.”

Administrator Jackson’s announcement signals the beginning of new era of toxics policy in America and will continue to build momentum for congressional efforts to reform the federal toxics program. For the past three Congresses, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) have been the champions of toxics reform with their still-pending legislation entitled “The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act.” Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) is expected to lead the efforts on toxics reform in the House in the 111th Congress.

The EPA’s principles are modeled off of previously introduced versions of the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, and during a phone briefing with environmentalists and industry representatives yesterday, EPA officials repeatedly referenced the legislation as a valuable tool as the agency drafted its reform plan.

What a difference one year and new leadership at EPA make. In April 2008, Jim Gulliford, then-Assistant EPA Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee:

“Overall, I believe that TSCA provides broad authority for the Agency to adequately control new and existing chemicals and to address emerging chemical issues as they arise….I believe that TSCA provides EPA with the statutory tools necessary to protect public health and environment.”

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org

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