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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.

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“Chemical Safety Improvement” Act Needs Improvement

A Policy Statement by Physicians for Social Responsibility

Physicians for Social Responsibility, a national organization of health professionals and concerned individuals, calls on the United States Senate to protect American families from the toxic chemicals found in many manufactured products and in our environment, by strengthening the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 1009). 

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act is designed to improve our health by reducing exposure to toxic chemicals in our communities.  It will achieve that goal only if certain serious shortcomings are remedied.  We ask you to take immediate action to correct the following failings in the bill: 

  • It fails to incorporate the Precautionary Principle. A precautionary approach requires that the chemical industry bear the burden of demonstrating the safety of the chemicals they use.  The people and government must not have to bear the negative consequences of exposure to toxic chemicals and then the burden of proving harm.
  • It neither identifies nor protects vulnerable populations.  Such groups as pregnant women, infants, young children and the elderly are biologically more susceptible to harm from exposure to toxic chemicals.  Vulnerability is also greater for workers, in low-income communities, and areas with high levels of aggregate chemical exposure, such as communities near to polluting industries who bear more toxic burden where they live, work, play, worship, and go to school.  The bill must define vulnerable populations and require greater protection for them.
  • It preempts the authority of the states to regulate harmful chemicals. Absent effective action by the federal government, the states have taken significant leadership in protecting their residents from such harmful chemicals and pollutants as lead, bisphenol A, phthalates and flame retardants. The CSIA would largely prevent states from taking action to address dangerous chemicals, even in the absence of federal regulation. The power of the states to enact laws to protect their residents from toxic chemicals must not be abridged.
  • It allows withholding of information about chemicals in manufactured products.  The bill violates the right of the public to know what toxic chemicals are contained in the products we buy and use in our everyday lives.  It also impedes the ability of health professionals to treat patients for exposure to toxic substances.  Health professionals must have ready access to the information on chemicals that their patients have been exposed to, and must be able to research and raise awareness about health impacts linked to chemical exposure.

We consider these to be critical weaknesses, although not the only weaknesses of the bill; for example, the bill also fails to require expedited action on the worst chemicals or to address the needs of “hot spot” communities that already bear disproportionate toxic burdens.

We urge you to remedy these failings in the Chemical Safety Improvement Act in order to truly protect the public from toxic chemicals.  Everyone has the right to an environment in which they can reach and maintain their full potential.

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