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Senate Introduces Safe Chemicals Act of 2011

On April 14, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., along with Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and others, introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to upgrade the nation’s system for managing chemical safety and protect communities from toxic chemicals.

“The average American has more than 200 industrial chemicals in their body, including dozens linked to cancer and other health problems. The shocking truth is that the current law does not require tests to ensure chemicals used in everyday household products are safe,” said Lautenberg. “The EPA does not have the tools to address dangerous substances and even the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws to assure consumers that their products are safe. My Safe Chemicals Act will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to separate the chemicals that help from the chemicals that hurt.”

In addition to overhauling the 35-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the act would:

  • Require EPA to identify and restrict the “worst of the worst” chemicals, those that persist and build up in the food chain;
  • Require basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for entering or remaining on the market;
  • Reduce the burden of toxic chemical exposures on people of color and low-income and indigenous communities;
  • Upgrade scientific methods for testing and evaluating chemicals to reflect best practices called for by the National Academy of Sciences; and
  • Generally provide EPA with the tools and resources it needs to identify and address chemicals posing health and environmental concerns.

Passed in 1976, TSCA’s presumption that chemicals should be considered innocent until proven guilty was a departure from the approach taken with pharmaceuticals and pesticides. Since then, science has shown that presumption to be unfounded, according to the coalition Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. Published studies in peer-reviewed journals have shown many common chemicals can cause chronic diseases and can be toxic even at low doses.

Chemical Safety Reform

Congress first introduced the Safe Chemicals Act in 2010. Following hearings to solicit feedback from chemical industry leaders, public officials, scientists, doctors, academics and non-profit organizations, several changes were made to improve the bill, according to Lautenberg. For example, the updated bill establishes risk-based prioritization categories so EPA can focus its resources on the highest-risk chemicals. It also requires chemical companies to initially submit basic hazard and exposure data to quickly determine the risk and assess the need for further testing or restrictions.

Advocates predict action in this Congress despite the partisan divide. They point to support from many businesses for reform of TSCA, including some major chemical and consumer product companies. They also point to the strong bipartisan support for chemical safety legislation at the state level as well as public opinion research that shows bipartisan support for reform.

“We need a new law to put commonsense limits on toxic chemicals both to protect American families and to give a leg up to American firms in a world market that increasingly demands safer products,” said Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

“The Safe Chemicals Act is a win for both public health and the economy. Smart businesses want to help make reform happen because it’s in their financial interest to make safer, healthier products,” Igrejas added.

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