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EWG Urges Congress To Require Safety Tests of New Chemicals

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For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, July 11, 2013

Washington, D.C. – Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, told a House hearing today that under current law chemical manufacturers can market new chemicals without giving federal regulators safety tests. 

“A chemical company can get a new chemical on the market today without providing any information about the toxicity of the chemical.”  White told members of the House subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. “In fact, 85 percent of the premanufacture submissions [to the Environmental Protection Agency] have zero information about the toxicity of those new chemicals.”

“Americans have lost faith in a chemical regulatory system that they suspect, with good reason, doesn’t protect them and their children,” White said. “Make no mistake. EWG wants the United States to be the world leader in innovative chemical production….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.”

The EPA, which enforces the toxics law, White said, “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…. 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… Its new chemicals program is woefully inadequate, and its secrecy provisions threaten human health.”

The committee sought comment from White, industry representatives and independent experts on the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the nation’s primary law regulating the use of chemicals in consumer goods.   The hearing focused mostly on key provisions that allow new chemicals to enter the market with little or no safety testing and that permit chemical companies to hide most information about individual chemicals.

“Chemical makers assert that secrecy protects their competitive advantage, but they know very well that their competitors commonly reverse engineer their products,” White said. “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 in hot spots of chemical exposure.”

An EWG investigation in 2010 found that the chemical industry had filed secrecy claims covering even the chemical name for about 17,000 of the 83,000 chemicals on the Environmental Protection Agency’s master list of chemicals on the American market.

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

 Heather White’s entire testimony can be found here: