What's Next for Toxics Reform?
Kathy Attar, MPH
June 13, 2014
Just about every week, a new study shows the connection between toxic chemicals and adverse health outcomes. Prenatal exposure to flame retardants has been linked to lower IQs and greater hyperactivity in five-year old children. Children who were exposed to household dust with high concentrations of certain flame retardants had a greater risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And 102 chemicals have been linked to breast cancer.
Many of these chemicals are found in our everyday products and environments, including polyurethane foam, dry-cleaning, spot remover, glues, and plastics. Furthermore, CDC data shows these chemicals are found in Americans' blood, urine, and breast milk.
Over the past year, PSR and our allies have been working to reform the law (Toxic Substances Control Act) which regulates these toxic chemicals. We have sent letters, written op-eds and letters to the editor, made phone calls and organized health professionals to demand that Congress make chemicals policy more health-protective by reducing the toxic chemicals that make their way into our products and in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods.
Recently, PSR's executive director, Dr. Catherine Thomasson, was on Capitol Hill to make our case for real reform. The voice of health professionals is critical to ensuring any reform legislation serves the public's health and preserves the environment.
Unfortunately, the current reform proposals in the House and Senate are still lacking the necessary elements to protect us from toxic chemicals. From where we sit, it appears that the chemical industry's needs and wants are given far more weight than the public’s in these measures. Whether a deal can be struck that moves us forward in effectively regulating toxic chemicals remains unclear. Both the House and Senate proposals appear stalled until after mid-term elections or early next year.
So what's next? The public's concern for the health implications of toxic chemical exposures continues to grow, and so does marketplace pressure. Kaiser Permanente recently announced they would be phasing out toxic flame retardants in the furniture they purchase for all of the hundreds of medical facilities they own across the U.S.
States have also been paving the way by passing legislation designed to lessen the threats to their residents from toxic chemicals. Vermont recently passed a law requiring chemical makers to disclose the presence of a specified list of chemicals of concern in products designed for children.
Will Congress heed the public's concern -- and the science connecting toxic chemicals to poor health -- and pass real chemical reform?
The one certainty is that industry will continue to lobby its interests and make its voice heard in Congress. The public health community must continue to keep the pressure on as well, making our demands heard for truly protective chemicals policy reform.
Because until we pass real, health-protective reform, the adverse health outcomes like lower IQ, increased breast cancer and childhood cancers from toxic chemical exposures will continue to occur.