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Oral testimony of Heather White on the regulation of new chemicals, protection of confidential business information, and innovation

Oral testimony of Heather White on the regulation of new chemicals, protection of confidential business information, and innovation

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ORAL TESTIMONY – HEATHER WHITE

Executive Director
Environmental Working Group

Before the

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND THE ECONOMY

On

Regulation of New Chemicals, Protection of Confidential Business Information, and Innovation

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee  I’m Heather White, Executive Director of Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., Iowa, and California. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

EWG wants the United States to be the world leader in innovative chemical production. Some of the best and brightest scientists are at the companies represented here today. But innovation is not just about lowering costs and boosting profits. Americans believe that “innovation” must also mean creating chemicals that are not just cheap but safe. Strong chemical regulation promotes innovation. We cannot compete internationally on labor or production costs. We will not win that race to the bottom. But America ultimately will win on chemical quality and safety through toxics law reform.

For two decades, EWG has advocated greater protection of people and the environment from toxic chemicals. Our groundbreaking research detected nearly 300 toxic industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. The reality is industrial chemical pollution begins in the womb.

Yet a century into the chemical revolution, we still don’t know what low-level exposures to these substances, alone or in combination, do to our health – especially our children’s health. No one has basic answers, not the government, academic researchers or the chemical industry.  In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel concluded that the number of cancers caused by toxic chemicals is “grossly underestimated.”   

Americans have lost faith in a chemical regulatory system that they suspect, with good reason, doesn’t protect them and their children.

Many of these chemicals have not been adequately tested for safety under the Toxics Substances Control Act. Its new chemicals program is woefully inadequate, and its secrecy provisions threaten human health.

New Chemicals

There are three major problems with the new chemicals program. First, most Americans assume that a chemical can’t be sold until proved safe. Not so. A chemical company can get a new chemical on the market today without providing any information about the toxicity of the chemical.  Companies do it every day.  In fact, 85 percent of the premanufacture submissions have zero information about the toxicity of those new chemicals.

Second, EPA faces a chemical Catch-22. The agency cannot demand more test data without solid evidence that the new chemical could be an unreasonable risk, and it cannot come up with that evidence without test data.

The law places the burden on EPA, not the manufacturer, to determine whether a new chemical is unsafe before it goes into use. The trouble is that chemicals are entitled to a presumption of innocence. That works in criminal law but shouldn’t exempt chemicals from investigation. Not surprisingly, EPA attempts to restrict less than 10 percent of new chemicals.

Finally, chemical makers don’t necessarily know how the chemical might be used when they make it.  After a new chemical is approved, they have do not have to tell EPA when the planned use changes.

Secrecy

As for secrecy, the current law’s confidential business information scheme is “a regulatory black hole” where critical information goes in and little comes out. Even the intelligence community declassifies highly sensitive information after a while, but TSCA confidentiality claims never expire.

Companies have a legitimate interest in keeping some information confidential, but unwarranted claims directly threaten human health and the environment.

TSCA permits a manufacturer to claim confidentiality, without substantiation, for virtually any information it submits to EPA.  Confidentiality claims mask the identities of nearly two-thirds of all new chemicals introduced since 1976, including substances used in consumer and children’s products.

Chemical makers assert that secrecy protects their competitive advantage, but they know very well that their competitors commonly reverse engineer their products. Everybody else is in the dark  -- ordinary citizens, first responders, workers, medical personnel, independent researchers, state and local governments, fence-line communities that are often “hot spots” of chemical exposure.

We deserve better. Congress can overhaul the broken toxics law to protect public health and the environment and at the same time, spur development of better, safer, innovative chemicals.

I welcome any questions you may have. Thank you.