Companies' Agreement to Conduct Screening Tests on 20 Chemicals for Effects on Kids Called "A Modest Step in the Right Direction"

July 3, 2001
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Washington, D.C. --  Groups representing the pediatric, public health, environmental health and environmental communities offered tempered praise for the recent commitment by some businesses to conduct a limited number of preliminary tests on a small number of chemicals for their effects on children's health.

"While we are gratified to see some industry leaders agree to conduct screening-level tests on a few of the chemicals that have been detected in people's bodies, we remain concerned about the limited scope of the testing involved," said Environmental Defense Senior Attorney Karen Florini. "It's a modest step in the right direction, but only that."

The voluntary program was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which acceded to industry pressure to create three distinct "tiers" of testing; the commitments announced to date relate only to the first, most limited tier. [EPA web site: www.epa.gov/chemrtk/vcceprsp.htm]

"As our organizations have repeatedly stated to EPA, we remain very concerned that there is no scientific basis supporting the three-tiered system of tests being used in this program," said Ruth Swanson, Associate Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "It must be recognized that these first-tier commitments, while welcome, aren't a commitment to conduct all of the necessary tests. The first tier will not provide adequate information to assure that children are safe."

Lynn Goldman, professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: "While applauding any effort that will generate more information, I am troubled that there is no understanding of how industry and EPA will decide, on the basis of these initial screening tests, when chemicals require further study to assess serious health effects like cancer and developmental toxicity. The program does not commit industry to follow through with comprehensive study of chemical hazards, so there is no guarantee that chemicals will fully be tested for children's safety."

"If commitments to the full set of tests aren't made, the program allows a company to provide incomplete information about health effects on kids ? and then stop. And what if they claim 'this chemical has been tested for children's safety,' even if the testing is inadequate or incomplete?," said Daniel Swartz, executive director of the Children's Environmental Health Network.

"Our groups hope that these companies will, as a good faith part of this pilot project, commit up-front to doing all three levels of testing, so that we can see better how this process works," said Mohammad N. Akhter, MD, MPH, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association. "Right now there's no commitment that they will provide information on the most important potential effects such as cancer and impacts on a child's developing nervous system. We hope they step forward now."

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(To see the groups' April 2000 joint statement on the program, visit www.cehn.org/cehn/vcht.html.)