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Last month, the EPA official responsible for reviewing the safety of chemicals used in thousands of every-day products was asked how many chemicals in use are so dangerous they should get a harder look by the agency to protect public health and the environment.
You read that right.
Jim Jones, who runs the EPA office charged with reviewing the safety of chemicals that have been linked to everything from cancer to reproductive problems, told lawmakers that “about one thousand” chemicals currently found in everyday products need to be reviewed.
So what have House Republicans proposed to address this problem?
A bill that would let EPA take at least seven years, but likely longer, to review and manage the dangers posed by any one chemical.
But that’s not all.
The aptly named “Chemicals in Commerce Act” is less concerned with making sure that chemicals are safe than with making it easier for companies to flood the market with substances that could cause harm.
Under the proposal developed by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), EPA would only be able to restrict chemicals so that they pose no “unreasonable” risks.
In other words, we would have to tolerate chemicals that can harm us so long as chemical companies can convince the EPA – and ultimately the courts – that their toll on health and the environment is justified.
But that’s not all.
The proposal would still allow new chemicals onto the market before EPA has enough information to adequately assess their safety. Although the EPA would have more authority to make companies develop and share test data about their chemicals, the bill has no requirement that the companies produce at least a basic amount of information to identify any hidden risks.
Further, companies would be able to hide from the public the names of chemicals that are the subject of health and safety studies – putting business interests ahead of protecting public health.
But that’s not all.
The proposal would not only create a framework that would prevent the federal government from effectively ensuring that chemicals are safe, it would also greatly curtail the states’ ability to pick up the slack on your behalf.
Rep. Shimkus has pledged to improve his proposal, but it will take substantial changes to give EPA the tools it needs to address the hazards posed by the 1,000 chemicals Jones mentioned.
So what’s needed for real reform?
· Real reform would require companies to give EPA at least the minimum set of data that regulators need to understand the potential hazards and uses of chemicals before they go to market.
· Real reform would require EPA to ensure that chemicals are in fact safe – or, in wonkier terms – pose a “reasonable certainty of no harm.”
· Real reform would ensure that the EPA has readily available the tools and resources it needs to review – and (if warranted) ban or restrict –Jones’ 1,000 chemicals.
· Real reform would not only tell EPA to identify which chemicals are the most urgent to review, but also direct the agency to make a priority of those that bio-accumulate in our bodies, persist for long periods in the environment or may cause cancer, reproductive problems and other serious health problems.
· Real reform would allow the EPA to take extra steps to protect vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, children, workers, the elderly and communities near chemical plants.
· Real reform would retain a significant role for the states in ensuring chemical safety and eliminate the legal hurdles that for decades have thwarted efforts to regulate chemicals.
· Real reform would give EPA more tools to keep chemical companies from dragging their feet when they’re instructed to take steps to protect health and the environment.
· And, of course, real reform would ensure public access to health and safety information about chemicals, including their names, especially for emergency workers and medical providers.
Chemical companies purport to share many of these same goals, including a requirement that chemicals be proven “safe.”
So, why don’t House Republicans?