House Panel Tackles Chemical Legislation

July 30, 2010
On July 29, a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee held the first hearing on legislation to overhaul the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. While the new legislation, The Toxic Chemicals Safety Act (H.R. 5820), received strong support from environmental and public health advocates, a representative from a chemical manufacturer society warned that the bill could negatively impact industry.

Under the new legislation, chemical manufacturers would have to provide basic health and safety information for all chemicals and also demonstrate a chemical’s safety in order to keep it on the market. The worst of the worst chemicals – those that build up in the food chain – would be targeted for immediate reduction. Product manufacturers and retailers that already work to reduce toxic chemicals would be given new information to help them achieve their goals. EPA also would be given a new mandate to identify communities especially hard-hit by toxic chemicals (“hot spots”) and develop action plans to return them to health.

“There has never been more momentum to reform our federal chemical policy,” said Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. “Today the committee got a glimpse of the unusual diversity of support for reform. It is both broad and deep.”

In testimony before the committee, Howard Williams, vice president of Construction Specialties Corp., supported the legislation. “Our economy and our health are inextricably joined, and fundamental to a strong America,” he said. He cited the company’s commitment to eliminating persistent, bio-accumulative toxins and also the need for better information to help it respond to market demand for safer products.

Dr. Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH, of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice also supported the legislation in testimony citing its benefits for “environmental justice communities.” Mitchell outlined the combined impact of poorly regulated products in dollar stores, excessive pollution from factories, and legacy contamination in low-income areas and communities of color.

“We have higher rates of environmentally related diseases such as asthma, diabetes, learning disabilities, cardiovascular disease and premature death,” Mitchell testified. “In its current form the legislation would go a long way in addressing environmental justice issues.”

Dr. Richard Denison, Senior Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund and the leading expert on TSCA, also supported the legislation. “Over the past decade, a litany of serious concerns has emerged that calls into question the safety of the thousands of chemicals we use and encounter in our everyday lives,” he said. ”This critically important legislation represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect the American people and our environment from dangerous chemicals.”

Bosley: Bill is Overreaching, Unworkable

While most witnesses testified in favor of the bill, Boron Specialties President Beth Bosley, who testified on behalf of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), had a different take on the legislation.

“…[W]e are sorry to say that the bill before us today is still overreaching and unworkable,” she said. “It would have a substantial negative impact on a strategic American industry that is already fighting recession and foreign competition.”

According to Bosley’s written testimony, SOCMA identified the following problems with H.R. 5820:

  • The bill’s safety standard is “inappropriate for industrial chemicals.”
  • An increase in testing and reporting for new chemicals would discourage R&D and the introduction of new chemicals/applications.
  • Including mixtures in the new chemicals program would require “a massive increase in paperwork” to be submitted to EPA for mixtures containing chemicals without an identified risk.
  • There is no state preemption for the chemicals reviewed by EPA, which could result in “a growing patchwork of state laws” and disrupt interstate commerce.
  • Intellectual property is not adequately protected under the bill, which could “promote foreign undercutting of our industry.”

“We understand the complexities associated with modernizing TSCA and believe our chemicals policy goals can be accomplished in a way that does not devastate a strategic American industry, but does enhance public confidence and protection of human health and the environment,” she explained in her testimony.

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