toxic reform

The Wrong Kind of Toxics Reform

The above ad was paid for by The American Chemistry Council.

Is there ANYTHING in your life that you wear, use, drive, fly, eat, or otherwise use in a thousand other ways that have NOT been updated in almost 40 years?

OK, maybe that alligator purse of your grandmother’s.

But the U.S. government doesn’t seem to have a problem with certain laws going stone-cold stale and ineffective.

Take the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) for example it has not been updated since its creation in 1976.

That’s almost forty years of industries creating what is now over 80,000 chemicals, very few of which have been safety tested by the EPA.

Isn’t it good news, then, that a newly proposed draft legislation in Congress seeks to update this law and might actually reach the floor rather than die in committee?

Definitely not!

Reality bites: this legislation, heavily influenced by lobbyists working for the American chemical industry giants, almost sets TSCA further back into the stone age of safety regulations.

Officially titled the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act and introduced to the Senate by David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), it is a revamp of a bill introduced two years ago.

It has received wide support from the chemical industry and has eight supporting Republicans and eight supporting Democrats.

On the surface, it seems to have some good provisions. Bruce Alpert of the New Orleans Times-Picayune gives a synopsis:

  • Requires a safety finding for new chemicals before they can enter the market.
  • Eliminates the current law’s “least burdensome” requirement for chemical enforcement, which Udall said prevented EPA from banning asbestos, which was linked to health problems with trailers used to house people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

But, when we look a little deeper, it becomes less rosy.

Kate Sheppard of the Huffington Post explains that Sen. Barbara Boxer’s team of legal experts have condemned the bill as worse than the original.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, argued that the new legislation is too weak, and would undermine states that have set tougher laws than the federal rules.

While the law would grandfather in existing, tougher state laws, the federal law would take precedent [over the states’ laws] once the measure takes effect.

Other criticisms outlined by Alpert and Sheppard are along the same lines: it does little to protect us against exposure and will undermine stricter pieces of state legislation.

A press release from the watchdog organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) also points out that while the bill may give more jurisdiction to the EPA, it won’t necessarily give the agency the tools to wield that power with any effectiveness:

This bill fails to ensure that chemicals are safe, to set meaningful deadlines and to provide the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with adequate resources to do the job.”

Scott Faber at EWG has written a list of the top 10 problems with the bill, pointing out the industry-friendly provisions as well as those which don’t improve the standards by which chemical danger is being assessed.

For instance:

Chemicals Still Not Safe –

Toxic industrial chemicals that end up in people’s bodies, and even contaminate babies before they are born, should be at least as safe as pesticides.

However, the chemical industry bill would retain the far weaker “no unreasonable risk of harm” health standard, rather than the “reasonable certainty of no harm” standard applied to pesticides on produce and food additives.

While this Udall-Vitter bill is attempting to change laws that desperately need changing, it has completely missed the mark.


Posted by Jane Summerfield
December 30, 2020

Last modified on January 1st, 2021

Jane Summerfield

Jane is a wellness specialist with a degree in community health. She has been a health educator for over 13 years.