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Why is chemical policy reform so hard to pass? The real priority of the chemical industry

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on November 19, 2010

Federal chemical policy reform is a health imperative. In this Congress, reform bills were introduced in the Senate and the House addressing some of the most overt failures of our federal chemicals management system. Those bills never made it out of committee.

Why didn’t these health-protective bills ever come up for a vote? Did Congress just run out of legislative energy and momentum after the healthcare reform marathon, and the debacle of a failed climate and energy bill?

These are probably contributing factors. But a larger factor seems to be the resistance of the chemical industry. Despite assurances from the American Chemistry Council that it believes the Toxic Substances Control Act (or TSCA) is in dire need of reform, it has been digging in its heels against reform ever since Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act. In other words, it seems the ACC misled Americans about its commitment to policy reform.

Our chemicals management system is broken. Under current law, chemicals with known health effects are almost impossible to restrict, and thousands of chemicals in commerce have never been tested for health effects. In every region of our country, people are exposed to complex combinations of industrial chemicals throughout their lives – even before they are born. This doesn’t make sense from the perspective of prevention.

I guess the chemical industry doesn’t count preventive health measures as on top of its list of priorities, and public health professionals, who do, don’t have nearly as deep pockets as the ACC.

The latest example of the ACC’s putting the screws on Members of Congress to protect its financial interests at all costs came to light this week when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) reported the collapse of an agreement to limit the use of the synthetic estrogen BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. The ban was going to be part of the Senate’s pending food safety bill until Republican Senators put the brakes on the agreement. Those brakes were a direct result of chemical industry lobbying, according to Senator Feinstein.

The ban of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, while important, is inherently piecemeal. I can only imagine the lengths to which the ACC would go to scuttle the fundamental restructuring of the chemicals management system on the federal level that we so desperately need. And therein lies the most likely answer to why the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 and its companion bill in the House, the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, introduced by Representatives Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Henry Waxman (D-CA), never made it out of committee.

But states are stepping in where the federal government will not. This week the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition released Healthy States, a report detailing the extent to which states have enacted health-protective chemical policy reform in the past decade. Some highlights of the report, in the words of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families:

  • Increasingly, the states have passed new laws to phase out chemicals that threaten children's health and restrict toxic chemicals in consumer products. In the last eight years, both the number of state chemical laws and the number of states passing toxic chemical reforms have tripled.
  • State lawmakers passed tough laws on toxic chemicals with an overwhelming margin of support. More than 8,000 (or 89%) of the more than 9,000 roll-call votes cast by state legislators favored tighter toxic chemical regulation, a margin of support greater than 8–1.
  • Tough state laws on toxic chemicals also received broad bipartisan support. Of the votes cast, about 99% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans favored stronger protections of children's health and the environment from dangerous chemicals, with equal support from governors of each party.

With a patchwork of state-level chemical regulations being enacted across the country with bipartisan support, it’s time for our federal lawmakers to take action. Americans of all political persuasions resent the trespass of industrial chemicals in our bodies and in those of our children; we call on the chemical industry to please step aside of the reform movement gaining steam across the country.


stephenie hendricks said ..

Thanks for this succinct summary. It is maddening that the hard work from so many environmental health advocates was so insidously attacked by the petrochemical industry, with the complicity of the legislators they own in Congress. I wonder when we will all get so fed up that we just vote on campaign reform state by state and kick the corporations out of government?

November 22, 2010

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