7 key takeaways from today's hearing on chemical safety reform

Sarah Vogel

On November 13, the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will convene a hearing on pending legislation to reform our badly broken chemical law. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), passed in 1976, is outdated and leaves Americans unprotected from the serious health impact of toxic chemicals. In an unusual move, the House hearing will focus on a Senate bill: legislation introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA) in May of this year. Witnesses will discuss the pending legislation, its strengths and flaws, and how it needs to be improved to create an effective and efficient system that protects Americans from hazardous chemicals.

Here are seven things you should know about the hearing.

1)      EDF’s own Dr. Richard Denison will be testifying. He’s spent a good part of his career fighting for chemical reform and will be laying out the need for reform and evaluating how the Lautenberg-Vitter bill would measure up. Broadly, EDF’s view of the Senate bill is that while it addresses some of the major flaws in the current law, it needs serious fixes as it moves forward in order to secure a system that protects American health. Read Denison’s testimony, as well as an op-ed he wrote posted on TheHill.com for more in his own words.

2)      There is widespread agreement that TSCA is a broken law. TSCA is almost 40 years old and grandfathered in more than 60,000 existing chemicals without requiring any assessment of their potential health effects. Meanwhile, new chemicals enter the marketplace after a time- and data-limited review and no requirement that EPA determine their safety.  States, retailers and consumers have been forced to try and fill the void left by a hamstrung EPA. But with tens of thousands of chemicals in use, there’s just no way for individuals, states or retailers to do the job of the federal government.

3)      The Senate bill would make some substantial improvements to TSCA.  The Lautenberg-Vitter bill would make some key fixes to TSCA, including mandating safety evaluations for all chemicals currently in use.  It also requires EPA to find a new chemical is likely safe before it enters the market.  The bill makes it easier for EPA to require testing and fixes a flaw in the safety standard that prevented the agency from even banning the known carcinogen asbestos.  However…

4)      The bill still needs serious work. The Lautenberg-Vitter legislation has too much red tape, not enough deadlines, not enough protection for vulnerable populations and excessive preemption of state chemical laws, among other problems. But…

5)      The bill is fixable. There are workable solutions for each of the problems identified, and some of these are already being discussed in the Senate.  If Members of Congress commit to serious negotiations, they can make the improvements necessary to pass meaningful chemical safety legislation. 

6)      Chemical Reform is first and foremost about improving our health.  There aregood business and economic arguments for chemical safety reform—building the market for new green chemistry alternatives, for instance—but our primary concern is protecting the health of Americans. And simply put, the broken chemical law puts our health at risk.  Researchers are finding hundreds of chemicals in all of us, many of which are linked to health problems and diseases such as breast cancer, infertility, learning disabilities and diabetes. It is urgent that we fix this law. So…

7)      Congress needs to act. The pending legislation in the Senate is a real opportunity. It will be hard work to make the necessary fixes and pass chemical safety reform that protects our health, but that’s what we expect from and demand of our Members of Congress. 

If you’d like to get involved, tell your Congressman to act to improve and move the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.