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Behind the Scenes at the Safe Chemicals Act Legislative Hearing

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on November 24, 2011

Last week I wrote about the legislative hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. At the hearing, Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) said that he would be calling for a committee vote in the near future.

Lautenberg issued a rational, simple plea for bipartisan cooperation. “If you’ve a problem with anything in this bill, discuss it today, or commit to proposing a solution.” Such a rational discussion, alas, did not follow. But some exciting and some encouraging things did. So this week I’m sharing some more detail about what did happen at the Safe Chemicals Act Legislative Hearing:

Babies worked the line outside the hearing room

What a great sight: two babies crawled and toddled up and down the shiny hallway outside the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing room. Their committed moms brought them to the hearing to show how important meaningful reform of the Toxics Substances Control Act is to their babies’ health. I applaud both those moms, and the hundreds upon hundreds more who watched, listened, facebooked, and tweeted from afar.

Republicans warm up to chemical policy reform

Republicans have not generally been warm to the prospect of chemical policy reform. But at the hearing last week, Senator Inhofe (R-OK) introduced some encouraging sentiments. “It’s time to bring this 35-year-old statute into the 20th century, but it has to be done right. And this is a good start.” We agree. Thank you, Senator. Senator Crapo (R-ID) was also constructive and helpful during the hearing. He pointed out that in this toxic political environment (his words, not mine!), “this committee works well together.” He said the committee was working to “find common ground and build consensus.” That sounded like music to my ears. In the wake of the hearing, their spirit of collaboration seemed to be contagious. This week, both of Maine’s Republican Senators expressed support for reform of our federal chemicals management policy. Although neither Collins nor Snowe is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, their interest in this issue is important to moving the bill forward.

Is 35 years really that old?

Charlotte Brody, Director of Chemicals, Public Health, and Green Chemistry for the BlueGreen Alliance and a registered nurse, was one of the witnesses at the hearing. She explained that she started practicing as a nurse around the time that TSCA was passed in 1976. Since that time, TSCA has never been updated. “If I practiced nursing the same way I did then, I would be in prison for gross negligence and malpractice.” It was a very powerful reminder that, yes, 35 really is too old when it comes to an environmental health statute.

How to defeat legislation

During the hearing, Senator Cardin (D-MD) excoriated the American Chemistry Council’s Cal Dooley. The ACC has claimed to be wholeheartedly in support of TSCA reform, but it objects to most of the provisions in the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (as it did to the provisions of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010). Cardin begged Dooley to help craft something the ACC could stand behind. “Give us specific recommendations!” Cardin exclaimed. “You need to respond point by point so we can sit down here. But if your objective is to defeat the legislation, then I understand what you’re doing.” Dooley denied that was his intention, but Cardin’s point seemed to subdue the chemical industry representative.

How to increase Americans’ body burdens

Senator Udall (D-NM) also had some strong words for Dooley. As evidence of a failing system, he pointed to the CDC’s regular biomonitoring of Americans, which has revealed that hundreds of industrial chemicals are in the bloodstream of most Americans. “Are you advocating,” he asked Dooley, “for our body burden to go up?” After some tense back and forth, Dooley responded: “I take offense when you insinuate that our industry would be advocating that.” Udall calmly replied: “That’s where we’re heading right now. You know that. You’re advocating for that.”


Some things you can do:

    Call your Senator. Tell him or her that you are a constituent and that you have your eye on this important event.

  • Ask your Senator to stand up for the health of Americans by supporting reform of the outdated Toxics Substances Control Act. If he or she is one of the 12 co-sponsors of the Safe Chemicals Act, say thank you! If he or she is not, ask him or her to take this important step.
  • Tweet your Senator to tell him or her what you think of the hearing, and how you feel about chemicals in consumer products.

Onward, TSCA reform!


Maye Thompson, RN said ..

I too salute the moms who braved the halls of the Senate. It's not an easy environment to bring kids into, but it reminds everyone in the room what the stakes are. Breast-feeding moms everywhere know, babies are at the top of the food chain!

December 1, 2011
R.M.C. said ..

The potential for chemical reform is quite exciting, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice millions of animals (for toxicity testing) in the name of better protection for human health and the environment. The revised bill should mandate and create market incentives to use nonanimal methods. We need to ensure that chemical testing is in line with the 21st century and relies on modern, human cell and computer-based methods that provide accurate data on how a chemical acts and what the impact on human health may be.

November 28, 2011

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