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Separating the Good from the Goo
Separating the Good from the Goo
Over 80,000 chemicals are in use today with many of them in consumer products that have little if any health and safety data about them. About 7,000 chemicals are produced or imported every year in amounts above 25,000 pounds in the United States alone. Yet under current law, only five have been banned or restricted since the law was enacted in 1976.

That’s all about to change thanks to a new comprehensive initiative announced Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson who called the nation’s 1976 toxics law “inordinately cumbersome and time-consuming.” In a landmark speech before several hundred people in San Francisco, Jackson laid out the reasons for the plan:

“A child born in America today will grow up exposed to more chemicals than a child from any other generation in our history. A 2005 study found 287 different chemicals in the cord blood of 10 newborn babies – chemicals from pesticides, fast food packaging, coal and gasoline emissions, and trash incineration. They were found in children in their most vulnerable stage. Our kids are getting steady infusions of industrial chemicals before we even give them solid food. Now, some chemicals may be risk-free at the levels we are seeing. I repeat: some chemical may be risk-free. But as more and more chemicals are found in our bodies and the environment, the public is understandably anxious and confused. Many are turning to government for assurance that chemicals have been assessed using the best available science, and that unacceptable risks haven’t been ignored.”

The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act requires that the EPA prove a toxic substance “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment,” weigh the costs of restricting its use, and choose “the least burdensome” approach to regulating the chemical industry. Combining that toothlessness with a lost court case to asbestos manufacturers in 1989, even though the lung-targeting material had been long-banned, the agency’s effectiveness has been blunted tackling the downpour of chemicals that have not been certified as safe for humans and the environment. The Bush Administration’s environmental policies didn’t help matters much either.

“Today, advances in toxicology and analytical chemistry are revealing new pathways of exposure,” Jackson continued. “There are subtle and troubling effects of chemicals on hormone systems, human reproduction, intellectual development and cognition. Every few weeks, we read about new potential threats: Bisphenol A, or BPA – a chemical that can affect brain development and has been linked to obesity and cancer – is in baby bottles; phthalate esters – which have been said to affect reproductive development – are in our medical devices; we see lead in toys; dioxins in fish; and the list goes on. Many states – including California – have stepped in to address these threats because they see inaction at the national level.”

The Obama Administration initiative also targets brominated flame retardants in electronics and other products. Perfluorinated compounds used in making food packaging and non-stick coatings are also on the EPA’s priority list as well as some parafins used in lubricants. Dyes and pigments using benzidine dyes will also be scrutinized. These chemicals seem to mimic hormones and interfere with the development of fetuses and children. Possible reproductive problems, cancer and other maladies are also reasons for the additional scrutiny of these substances.

The “Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation” lays out the thinking behind the plan. EnviroReporter.com is especially interested in the EPA’s posted hazard characterizations on 100 additional high production volume chemicals.

This fascinating list includes these categories:

Alkyl Sulfides (4 chemicals)
Alkylphenols (18 chemicals)
AMPS® (2 chemicals)
Cyclic Anhydrides (5 chemicals)
Monocyclic Aromatic Amines (4 chemicals)
Mononitroanilines (2 chemicals)
Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (10 chemicals)
Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (10 chemicals)
Phenolic Benzotriazoles (4 chemicals)
Phosphoric Acid Derivatives (4 chemicals)
Pyridine and Pyridine Derivatives (8 chemicals)
Substituted Diphenylamines (7 chemicals)
Sulfosuccinates (3 chemicals)
Terpenoid Primary Alcohols and Related Esters (4 chemicals)
Thiuram (3 chemicals)
Trimellitate (4 chemicals)
Triphenylboron (2 chemicals)

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  1. This just in: EPW Republicans Block All Amendments to Strengthen Toxic Chemical Bill

    Washington, DC – Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, issued the statement below after the Republicans’ stunning action to block all of the amendments offered to strengthen the new Vitter toxic chemical bill.

    Senator Boxer said: “I am deeply disappointed that my Republican colleagues blocked every amendment to strengthen this bill. Instead, they chose to move a bill forward that preempts our states from acting to protect their people from the most toxic chemicals for at least 5 years. The legislation does nothing to ensure that terrifying disease clusters of children’s cancers are addressed, and the killer of 10,000 Americans a year – asbestos – was entirely left out of the bill.

    “I will continue to call attention to the flaws of the bill and the improvements that are needed to protect our families.”

  2. Six years later, and Republicans are trying to roll back these advancements. When money rules the roost, and chemicals are allowed into the consumer product stream without proper testing, who pays the price? You and your kids do. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D – California) gets that as this press release sent to EnviroReporter.com today attests:

    U.S. Senate Committee on
    Environment and Public Works

    Statement of Ranking Member Barbara Boxer
    Full EPW Committee Markup
    April 28, 2015
    (Remarks as prepared for delivery)

    Colleagues, this is the Environment Committee — not the board room of the chemical companies. That is why I am pleased that with the 179-page Vitter amendment we are witnessing the death of S. 697 that we have held hearings on and, according to a prize winning reporter, was written on the computer of the American Chemistry Council. I ask unanimous consent to place that news article in the record.
    That bill is gone, and I give my deepest thanks to the many public health organizations, environmental organizations like the Environmental Working Group, NRDC, Safer Chemicals, the Breast Cancer Fund, and Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, nurses, physicians, the media, and individuals like Deirdre Imus, Linda Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer. Those individuals and organizations put S. 697, the original bill, front and center and, despite its beautiful name, saw it for what it was.
    It was a bill that would harm our people with, as Senator Whitehouse called it, a death zone. The death zone is the period when states cannot act to address cancer-causing chemicals even when the federal government has done nothing to put safeguards in place. Thanks to all of you who were so strong, and particularly those who stood by my side at several press conferences.
    So now in the Vitter amendment, we see fixes to preemption of state air and water laws, co-enforcement of chemical restrictions by states, and removal of a harmful provision that would have undermined EPA’s ability to restrict the import of dangerous chemicals from foreign countries.

    When several colleagues offered to negotiate changes, I said yes. Senators Whitehouse, Merkley and Booker worked hard to try to improve the bill. I know, because I spoke to them almost every day this past week. They came through on those fixes I mentioned, and I thank Senator Vitter and Senator Udall for agreeing to them.

    In the amendment, we are still left with a death zone of at least five years, where states are shut out. What could happen during that time? New scientific evidence could show that a chemical causes significant harm to women and children. But instead of acting to address that threat, states would have to wait as long as five years while EPA studied the chemical. During that five-year period, there is a list of conditions that could easily and readily be used to deny any waiver. Further, they would have to go through a complicated and confusing process that virtually guarantees court action before they would be allowed to act.

    The House bill does not have this kind of preemption provision; a chemical must actually be regulated before preemption can occur. That’s the way it should be, and we have a chance to make that all important fix in the Gillibrand amendment. I hope we will. We all talk about the rights of our states to act in the best interests of their citizens. Then prove it today and vote to end preemption as the House bill does. Let’s not have Big Brother tell the states they have no right to act to protect their citizens.

    When our states act, all states benefit. Here is an example of that: Minnesota took the first steps to ban baby bottles made with bisphenol A (BPA), the State of Washington took the lead on restricting the use of brain-toxic lead and cadmium in children’s jewelry, and my home State of California spearheaded the effort to restrict the use of cancer-causing formaldehyde in wood products. The entire nation benefitted from all of these states’ actions.

    I don’t understand why any specific action on asbestos was left out of the new Vitter amendment. Asbestos is one of the most dangerous substances known to humankind — it takes 10,000 lives a year — and yet there is no mention of it in the Vitter amendment.

    The new Vitter amendment also left out any action on cancer clusters, and we will have an amendment to address that. There are still many parts of this bill that need fixing, and I urge my colleagues to keep working to make this bill better.

    I ask unanimous consent to place into the record letters and statements from organizations that oppose final passage of the Vitter substitute in its current form without passing strong perfecting amendments, and those who cannot support the bill in its current form without passing strong amendments, including the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition, which represents 450 environmental, labor, and public health groups; the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization; AFL-CIO; Environmental Working Group, the Breast Cancer Fund, and the Center for Environmental Health. I look forward to making this chemical safety bill better by amendment, but if we don’t pass the amendments I will vote no.

    As the bill takes authority to address dangerous toxic chemicals away from states and gives it to the federal government, some want to handcuff the EPA from using the best available science when developing its regulations. S. 544, the so-called Secret Science Reform Act of 2015, would impose arbitrary, unnecessary, and expensive requirements on the scientific information that EPA relies on to protect human health and the environment. It would also hinder scientific research by forcing the EPA to release confidential personal information about study participants.

    I ask unanimous consent to place in the record letters and statements from organizations that oppose the bill, and those who cannot support the bill in its current form without passing strong amendments. I want to note that the Obama administration has issued a veto threat on an identical House bill.

    Thank you, and I look forward to making this chemical safety bill better.

  3. Thank you Mr. Collins for bringing this to our attention.
    I had no idea that our children were being exposed to such volumes of chemical products.
    Let us all work together to protect our children, this article is a must read for every mom in the USA.
    Thanks and God Bless
    Rev John E Southewick

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