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Heat Advisory: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet
by Dr. Alan Lockwood

Drawing on peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, Dr. Lockwood meticulously details the symptoms of climate change and their medical side effects.

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PSR Statement on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act

July 6, 2016

Congress has at long last updated the nation's chemical policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), by enacting the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Act). Physicians for Social Responsibility presents its position on the new Act:

Viewed from the health perspective, the Lautenberg Chemical Act makes some improvements to our outdated and ineffective current system of regulating toxic chemicals. However, substantially more work will be needed in order to truly protect the health of all communities.

The Act does improve in several ways on TSCA's inadequate safety standard for chemicals. It prohibits consideration of costs in evaluating a chemical's risks, and once a chemical is determined to be unsafe in a specific use or product, the EPA is mandated to eliminate that risk. However, before EPA can issue any rule restricting the uses of a harmful chemical, it must conduct a cost-benefit analysis that goes beyond the traditional type – an analysis that could slow the elimination of toxic chemicals from the market considerably and ultimately place economic concerns above health.

Other improvements include protections for susceptible and over-exposed populations and greater authority for EPA to require testing of new chemicals. But funding is limited, so EPA could be stymied by the lack of resources to carry out necessary assessments. The pace of assessments is also a concern, with only a minimum of 10 chemicals to be assessed in the first year and 25 in the first three and a half years. The reform measure also emphasizes high-throughput testing via computers to assess whether a chemical disrupts hormones or causes cancer. These are technologies that are still evolving and may not be as reliable as more traditional methods.

The Act is further marred by additional serious defects:

  • It has unprecedented early preemption of states' ability to enact legislation to protect their residents from hazardous chemical exposures. States are prevented from taking action early in the process of EPA's review of a chemical, which can take up to 4 years. There is a grace period for states: if they act in the 12 months following the EPA's proposal to review the chemical, they are exempted from the early preemption. However, they do have to apply for a waiver, which complicated matters further.
  • The EPA will have a more difficult time stopping imported products that contain harmful chemicals from coming to the U.S.
  • The Act doesn't go far enough in allowing the public the right to know the identity of chemicals we come into contact with in our daily lives, even chemicals that have been studied and found to cause health impacts.

It is a testament to the many health, public health, environmental and community groups who worked to improve this Act that it has indeed changed from the version introduced, where rollbacks to state and federal authority were far-reaching. However, to replace our current broken regulatory system with legislation that does not put in place a strong, well-funded structure to test chemicals, evaluate the data, and then take action to rid hazardous substances from our lives does not serve the public's health.

Our children are disproportionately impacted by our weak system of chemical control. Evidence continues to mount on the connection between exposure to toxic chemicals and adverse health outcomes, and the statistics reflect this: Approximately 1 in 6 children has been diagnosed with a developmental disorder; the prevalence of autism has increased from 1 in 5,000 in 1975 to 1 in 68 in 2014; and childhood leukemia has increased by 55% between 1975 and 2011. Certain communities also suffer greater exposures than others. Environmental justice research demonstrates that people of color and low-income persons are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards, such as pollution and chemicals, in their communities, schools, and at work.

PSR and its chapters represent thousands of health professionals across the U.S. who care deeply about the health of our communities and believe prevention is the answer to rising disease rates and health care costs. We have a long history of educating, organizing, and advocating around the issue of toxic chemicals and their link to poor health. As this law begins to be implemented, PSR will continue to work to ensure that it is as health-protective as possible for our communities.

Page Updated July 8, 2016

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