House Hearing on Chemical Safety Bill Showcases Doubts

Washington, D.C. – A hearing at the House Energy and Commerce environment subcommittee yesterday surfaced deep doubts about a chemical industry-backed bill introduced earlier this year in the Senate to update the nation’s chemicals safety law.

“I agree we should not pass S.1009 as written,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.  Udall was one of the first senators to agree to co-sponsor the bill, numbered Senate bill 1009, and has been one of its most vocal proponents.  But yesterday, he asserted that the proposal “is not perfect and has some key problems that need to be addressed.”

Jim Jones, the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator in charge of the chemicals management program, raised similar reservations.  Asked if the industry-supported legislation would adequately protect vulnerable populations like pregnant women and children from exposures to toxic chemicals, Jones replied that “there are a number of areas which are meaningful deficiencies [in the bill] that would need to be addressed before we can say that this bill will give us [EPA] the tools we need to ensure safe chemicals in the United States….I think it needs some improvement.”  

Jones’ comments marked the first time the Obama administration had publicly expressed doubts about the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.  The effect of Jones’ remarks was to erect another hurdle to the legislation’s prospects for passage in its current form.

“The hearing was far from a big bear hug for the Chemical Safety Improvement Act,” said Jason Rano, legislative director of the Environmental Working Group. “It is not often a co-sponsor of a particular piece of legislation publicly opposes its adoption unless major changes are first made. That was a telling sign as to where things stand with this flawed piece of legislation.”

EWG has criticized the bill on numerous counts, among them, that manufacturers of chemicals could continue to market them without extensive safety testing.

In two letters sent Nov. 12 to Energy and Commerce committee chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and ranking Democrat Henry Waxman, D-Calif., some of the nation’s top medical professionals and scientists expressed serious qualms about the bill. 

 “As written, the CSIA fails to include strong protections for children as well as other vulnerable populations including workers, the elderly and those already compromised by disease,” the medical professionals wrote. “Legislation designed to repair the nation’s broken chemical regulatory system must make it a priority to protect these vulnerable groups.”

Both letters, along with the prepared testimony of the witnesses, a video of the entire hearing and other relevant documents can be found at the House committee’s website.

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