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Momentum Builds for Toxics Reform

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on November 17, 2011

We are really making progress on toxics policy. This week, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee held a legislative hearing on the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S. 847), introduced last spring by Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ). The Safe Chemicals Act offers badly-needed modernization of the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), the only major environmental statute to have escaped reform since its initial enactment. TSCA is now 35 years old, and while science and public health have seen tremendous advancement in that time, TSCA has not changed.

Today was significant because there has never been a Senate-side legislative hearing on reform of TSCA. At the hearing, the committee discussed the specific policy strategies outlined in the bill.

The hearing today followed several months of closed-door, bipartisan stakeholder discussions organized by Senator Lautenberg’s and Senator Inhofe’s offices. These discussions, a rare bipartisan effort in this bitterly divided Congress, brought the chemical industry, consumer products groups, health groups, and environmental groups to the Senate to discuss what they wanted to see in the legislation. Today’s hearing was the first public indication of the outcome of those meetings.

The packed hearing room included mom activists from the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families campaign, including Aidan, the eight month old who provided occasional coos and was personally thanked by Senator Gillibrand (D-NY), a co-sponsor of the Safe Chemicals Act, for attending the hearing.

Five witnesses addressed the committee today: Ted Sturdevant, director of the state of Washington’s Department of Ecology; Charlotte Brody, director of chemicals, public health and green chemistry for the BlueGreen Alliance; Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council; Robert Matthews, of the lawfirm McKenna Long & Aldridge and representing the Consumer Specialty Products Association; and Richard Denison, senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. Their written testimony is available on the Committee website.

Much of the testimony focused on the need for the Safe Chemicals Act, its potential to create jobs and spur innovation in the chemical industry, its health benefits, and its potential benefit to state regulators. The American Chemistry Council seemed to be reading from a different script, however. While praising the bipartisan stakeholder process (the closed-door meetings mentioned above), ACC president Cal Dooley expressed disappointment and disagreement with the proposed bill. “Today we are discussing a bill… that we consider unworkable,” he said.

After the witnesses presented testimony, Senators questioned the witnesses. Most of the questions were directed at Dooley, a former Member of Congress. Lautenberg reminded him that he didn’t get to vote in the committee. How important his approval is of the proposed legislation remains to be seen.

Current co-sponsors of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 are: Blumenthal (D-CT), Boxer (D-CA), Durbin (D-IL), Franken (D-MN), Gillibrand (D-NY), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Sanders (D-VT), Schumer (D-NY), and Whitehouse (D-RI).

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.

Next week I will post a blog with more details about the hearing, including some of the thorniest areas of policy debate as well as how our toxics champions in the Senate put American Chemistry Council’s Dooley on the spot.

Comments

Dan Lee said ..

Consuming canned soup linked to greatly elevated levels of the chemical bisphenol A Public release date: 22-Nov-2011 Contact: Todd Datz tdatz@hsph.harvard.edu 617-432-8413 Harvard School of Public Health BPA, found in soup can lining, associated with adverse health effects in humans A new study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has found that a group of volunteers who consumed a serving of canned soup each day for five days had a more than 1,000% increase in urinary bisphenol A (BPA) concentrations compared with when the same individuals consumed fresh soup daily for five days. The study is one of the first to quantify BPA levels in humans after ingestion of canned foods. The findings were published online November 22, 2011, in the Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA) and will appear in the November 23/30 print issue. "Previous studies have linked elevated BPA levels with adverse health effects. The next step was to figure out how people are getting exposed to BPA. We've known for a while that drinking beverages that have been stored in certain hard plastics can increase the amount of BPA in your body. This study suggests that canned foods may be an even greater concern, especially given their wide use," said Jenny Carwile, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH and lead author of the study. Exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical BPA, used in the lining of metal food and beverage cans, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity in humans. In addition to the lining of food and beverage cans, BPA is also found in polycarbonate bottles (identified by the recycling number 7) and dentistry composites and sealants. The researchers, led by Carwile and Karin Michels, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, set out to quantify whether canned-soup consumption would increase urinary BPA concentrations relative to eating fresh soup. They recruited student and staff volunteers from HSPH. One group consumed a 12-ounce serving of vegetarian canned soup each day for five days; another group consumed 12 ounces of vegetarian fresh soup (prepared without canned ingredients) daily for five days. After a two-day "washout" period, the groups reversed their assignments. Urine samples of the 75 volunteers taken during the testing showed that consumption of a serving of canned soup daily was associated with a 1,221% increase in BPA compared to levels in urine collected after consumption of fresh soup. The researchers note that the elevation in urinary BPA concentrations may be temporary and that further research is needed to quantify its duration. "The magnitude of the rise in urinary BPA we observed after just one serving of soup was unexpected and may be of concern among individuals who regularly consume foods from cans or drink several canned beverages daily. It may be advisable for manufacturers to consider eliminating BPA from can linings," said Michels, senior author of the study. ### Support for this study was provided by an Allen Foundation grant and a Training Grant in Environmental Epidemiology from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. "Canned Soup Consumption and Urinary Bishphenol A: A Randomized Crossover Trial," Jenny L. Carwile, Xiaoyun Ye, Xiaoliu Zhou, Anotonia M. Calafat, Karin B. Michels, JAMA, online Nov. 22, 2011; in Nov. 23/30 print issue.

November 30, 2011
Amy Cochran said ..

I would love to testify in Congress in support of this bill. This summer I suffered formaldehyde poisoning and subsequent hypersensitivity from the uncontrolled use of 37% formaldehyde on my neighbors farm. He uses about 165 gallons a month; its use is not regulated by OSHA; not only was I affected but many others; also illegal Mexicans who are hidden in the barn use the chemical without masks nor gloves. HOW DARE THEY? The state of Vermont ignored me until the CDC got involved, but it won't stop in my lifetime unfortunately, but I will keep fighting to stop this. Thank you.

November 19, 2011

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