EWG President Ken Cook Weighs In On Senate Chemical Policy Reform Bill

Washington, D.C. – The Chemical Safety Improvement Act introduced by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., is an “unacceptably weak response to the chemical exposure problems American families face every day,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said today.

“While we support efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise to update our badly broken chemical safety laws, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act is a dramatic and disturbing departure from the reform legislation that millions of Americans have been told is in the works in Washington,” Cook said.

“Gone from the bill are all the vital provisions that gave the public hope that Congress would stand up to chemical companies and toughen federal safeguards specifically to protect infants, children and expectant mothers from the toxic industrial chemicals all around us. From its findings and policy goals straight through to its regulatory provisions, this bill falls far short of meeting the pressing need to protect public health and the environment.”

Cook added:

The presence of so many toxic chemicals in our lives is a leading suspect behind serious public health challenges, including cancer, birth defects and behavioral disorders in children. For too long, we have lacked a chemical safety system that assures Americans that the chemicals in our products and workplaces are safe. As a result, millions of Americans are being needlessly exposed to untested and unregulated chemicals. And those toxic chemicals are showing up in our bodies and the bodies of newborn babies. The fact is that industrial chemical pollution begins in the womb.  Americans deserve nothing less than a strong, robust regulatory system that ensures that chemicals are safe for children’s health before they go on the market.

In particular, this bill has omitted the rigorous, established safety standard applied to pesticides and other chemicals to ensure public health and safety of chemicals used in consumer goods and manufacturing. In addition, it fails to require prioritization of chemicals for review that are showing up in umbilical cord blood and our bodies, does not include clear deadlines for chemical safety assessments, creates new obstacles to commonsense chemical regulation and preempts the legal authority of states that have been consumer protection leaders of the ability to protect their own residents from the risks of chemical exposures while.

In order to protect human health and the environment, Congress should demand that chemicals are proven safe for all consumers, especially children, pregnant women, and workers, and preserve the ability of states to act when the federal government lacks the courage or capacity to do so. This legislation reflects some modest improvements that industry itself has acknowledged are needed to make current law—the weakest major federal environmental law on the books—minimally workable, such as giving EPA more authority to require chemical safety tests and make health and safety studies public.  But precisely because the Toxic Substances Control Act now in force is so notoriously weak, modest improvements cannot be the measure of reform.  We support efforts to reach bipartisan agreement on toxic chemical legislation that ends our badly broken approach to chemical management. This draft bill, which has received extremely enthusiastic support from the industry it would regulate, is an unacceptably weak response to the chemical exposure problems that American families face every day.

Senator Lautenberg has been a stalwart champion of the environment for more than 30 years, and we look forward to working with him, Senator Vitter, and Chairman Barbara Boxer of California to make the necessary changes to strengthen this draft.

Ultimately, we are confident that this bipartisan effort will inspire supporters nationwide to fight even harder for a final bill that prevents babies from being pre-polluted by toxic industrial chemicals.

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