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Nurses and doctors educate lawmakers on the dangers of chemicals

September 24, 2013

Senate Briefing on chemicalsPSR joined forces recently with the American Nurses Association to present an informational briefing to the US Senate on the health hazards of chemicals in consumer products and the environment. Chaired by Catherine Thomasson, MD, PSR’s executive director, the briefing focused on chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which interrupt the body’s hormone system.

Endocrine disruptors have been associated with a wide range of health problems, from obesity and diabetes to infertility and cancer.

The briefing was presented in the context of proposed legislation to reform the current law that regulates chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 or TSCA.  TSCA is universally acknowledged to be toothless and ineffective.

Dr. Thomasson noted that the proposed bill, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), offers “a golden opportunity with bipartisan support for reform of TSCA.”  While the CSIA allows for some improvements, in its current form, “it doesn’t go far enough to protect the public’s health from dangerous chemicals like endocrine disruptors,” she clarified.

Three notable experts spoke on the need for effective chemical regulation.  Lynn Goldman, MD, MS, MPH, Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services, George Washington University, and Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health, addressed the widespread extent of the chemical threat to human health and the cost to society of the health effects. “Medical care costs attributable to chemical hazards are at least $76.6 billion per year. The current federal law governing chemical regulation makes it difficult if not impossible to address those costs,” Dr. Goldman stated. 

Laura Anderko, PhD, RN, holder of the Scanlon Endowed Chair at the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies, spoke about the role of chemicals in causing learning disabilities. “We need a proactive chemical policy that recognizes health impacts from exposures and prevents harmful chemicals from entering our marketplace,” Dr. Anderko reported.

Bruce Blumberg, PhD is a professor of Developmental and Cell Biology, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biomedical Engineering at the University of California, Irvine. His cutting-edge laboratory research examines the role of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the development of obesity and diabetes.  With the US in the midst of an obesity epidemic, effective regulation of obesogens provides another avenue for fighting this serious public health problem.

Dr. Blumberg called for a reasonable standard for determining whether chemicals are dangerous, noting, “The legal standards for evidence vary considerable in our society. If you are looking at a civil court case, a preponderance of evidence is needed to decide a case.  In a criminal case, the level of certainty must be beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the suspect.  The way the US currently looks at regulating toxic substances, a chemical must be proven to be harmful to human health beyond the remotest shadow of a doubt. That's not right."

PSR calls for the CSIA to be modified to better protect vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, infants, young children and the elderly, as well as workers, low-income communities, and areas with high levels of aggregate chemical exposure, such as communities near polluting industries.

It also calls for the bill to preserve the progress made by individual states to regulate chemicals.  States have made significant advances by banning some particularly dangerous chemicals such as lead, bisphenol A, phthalates and flame retardants. 

PSR also calls for timetables and deadlines in implementing chemical reform and for adequate public access to information on chemicals contained in consumer goods.

View the experts' presentations below:

Laura Anderko, PhD, RN: Chemicals and Learning Disabilities

Bruce Blumberg, PhD: Transgenerational Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Catherine Thomasson, MD: Obesity, Diabetes and Cognitive Disability from Chemicals?

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