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Breakthrough 2008 to blow-out 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Our new year's resolution: build on the accomplishments of 2008 to make 2009 the year we turn the corner on crucial environmental issues facing our society. We scored breakthroughs on a range of problems last year. Among them:

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Advancing the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. EWG's work on toxic chemicals spurred the reintroduction of the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act and its requirement of mandatory biomonitoring of industrial chemicals in people. EWG briefed Congressional staff members on the legislation, that aims to replace the weak Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. In the next Congress, EWG plans to organize briefings and push for hearings and passage of the bill.

Progressing toward a ban of toxic plastic chemical BPA. On October 31, the Science Board of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a stinging rebuke to the agency and embraced EWG arguments that bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resin may be a threat to human health. The panel forced FDA to retreat from its stance that trace levels of BPA are safe in food packaging, including infant formula cans and baby bottles. EWG scientists testified, wrote comments and served on the expert panel for the Science Board.

In September, the National Institutes of Health's National Toxicology Program (NTP)declared that BPA, shown in laboratory tests to disrupt the endocrine system, may alter brain development, cause behavioral problems and damage the prostate glands in fetuses, infants and young children.

In 2009, EWG will work with Congressional leaders and the Obama administration to press for a federal ban of BPA in food packaging and other products that expose children and pregnant women to the chemical.

With strong advocacy by EWG's California office, the California assembly office came close to passing the first state-level BPA ban. In 2009, 13 state legislatures are expected to consider similar measures.

Blowing the whistle on FDA plan to push mercury-laced seafood. On December 12, the Environmental Working Group made public internal government documents disclosing the Food and Drug Administration's secret plans to reverse federal warnings that pregnant women and children limit their fish intake to avoid mercury, a neurotoxin especially dangerous to the fetus and infants. EWG obtained both the FDA plan, stamped "CLOSE HOLD," and memos by senior Environmental Protection Agency scientists attacking FDA's rationale. The Washington Post broke the story, and other national stories followed.

Reaction from Capitol Hill was swift and sharp. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., denounced FDA: "Now, in the administration's 11th hour, they are quietly trying to water down advisories for women and children about the dangers of mercury in fish, disregarding sound science on this issue....This backroom bouquet for special interests should be stopped in its tracks. If they slip this through, I will work with the incoming Obama Administration to restore science-based decisions on mercury."