EWG Welcomes Boxer Proposal To Reform Weak Federal Chemical Controls

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For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kenneth A. Cook, President of EWG, and Linda Reinstein, mesothelioma widow and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, issued a joint statement today supporting a proposal unveiled by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

“We applaud Senator Boxer’s leadership in fighting for reform of our broken toxics laws and protecting public health,” Cook said.  “Senator Boxer’s proposal would maintain a strong safety standard to ensure that chemicals in consumer products are safe for children before they go on the market, set tough deadlines for the Environmental Protection Agency to act on the safety of chemicals, protect vulnerable populations from chemical pollution and overhaul the draconian trade secret provisions of current laws.”   

 “The current law was so weak that the first Bush Administration could not ban asbestos, a cancer-causing substance that is still in use and kills thousands of Americans each year,” Reinstein said.  “Senator Boxer’s proposal would protect thousands of families from exposures to this known carcinogen by explicitly placing all forms of asbestos on a fast track for assessment and reduction.  Coupled with a strong safety standard that would ensure that the chemicals in commerce must be proven to show a ‘reasonable certainty of no harm’ for vulnerable populations, a ban of asbestos is in sight. Senator Boxer’s proposal demands responsibility, accountability and transparency from chemical manufacturers and will ultimately protect public health.”

Cook and Reinstein said real reform should be measured by 10 key factors:

1)    Chemical safety – EPA should not be forced to wait to take action until a chemical poses an “unreasonable risk” to human health, as current law specifies.  Legislation that fails to ensure that chemicals are safe – or leaves doubt about the meaning of “unreasonable” – will not give EPA a clear mandate.

2)    Tough deadlines – EPA must take quick action, especially on dangerous chemicals linked to cancer or reproductive harm.

 3)   Priority for persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals and asbestos – Regulators must give accelerated review and regulation to asbestos, which kills thousands of people a year, and chemicals that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in people’s bodies and are toxic.

4)    Level the playing field – Under current law,  the EPA must meet a “substantial evidence” standard when taking action against problematic chemicals. This constitutes a higher bar than for other regulatory actions.  Legislation that fails to set the same standard for chemical regulations as for other rules creates needless obstacles to agency action.

5)    Consider aggregate exposures – People are daily exposed to a cocktail of chemicals that can cause serious health problems. Legislation that fails to consider how repeated exposures by multiple chemicals can harm human health fails to protect people, especially children.

6)    Protect vulnerable people and places – Some communities, such as towns that host manufacturing facilities, face heightened risks from chemicals. And some people, such as children and the elderly, are more susceptible to threats posed by chemicals.  They need special protection.

7)    Let states help EPA – In the absence of meaningful federal regulation, states have been leading efforts to protect Americans from dangerous chemicals. Legislation reforming TSCA should preserve the states’ important roles in protecting their citizens.

8)    Protect public right to know – The chemical industry keeps secret significant information about its products. Congress should reject legislation that allows chemical companies to withhold information at the expense of public health.

9)    More resources – Federal reviews and regulation of dangerous chemicals will require more funds.  Congress should reject any legislation that fails to require industry to pay its fair share.

10)   Limit exemptions – It’s hard to imagine a scenario that allows dangerous chemicals in consumer products.  Exemptions from regulations should be narrowly tailored and subject to time limits.

Senator Boxer’s proposal to reform TSCA achieves these key objectives.  We are especially thankful for her hard work and long-standing record of protecting public health and the environment.