We expect the EPA to keep us safe from toxic chemicals, but that expectation is not borne out by EPA’s minimal evaluation of risks from new chemicals, nor enforcement of violations of federal statutes about pollutants. It’s not for lack of trying or lack of scientific personnel, rather the fault lies with outdated and weak federal regulations.
The key federal law is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), enacted in 1976, that tasks the EPA with regulating the manufacture and sale of chemicals in the U.S. to protect the public from risks to health and the environment. The initial TSCA inventory listed more than 60,000 substances, and these chemicals were assumed to be safe until proven otherwise. This law started weak and became seriously out of date thirty years later. Senator Frank Lautenber (of New Jersey) worked diligently over a decade on a replacement for TSCA; in Senate bills the proposed law was called the Safe Chemicals Act. It would have required the manufacturer of a new chemical or substance containing chemicals to submit to EPA evidence that the chemical or substance is safe and poses no long term threat to the health of people or the environment (plants and animals and fish, etc.). Unfortunately, the dysfunctional Congress and industry lobbyists essentially killed the Safe Chemicals Act.
Meanwhile, just before Senator Lautenber’s death this year, an eviscerated and hobbled version of the bill appeared: it is called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013. Notice the wishy-washy language, probably suggested by the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying agency for the chemical industry. The non-profit organization, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) thoroughly blasted this bill: “this bill does not address the egregious failing of current law.” (See the article by David Andrews, Senior Scientist, EWG, June 6, 2013.) This article identifies the bills objectionable features. A short list of deficiencies is below.
- Its safety standard is weak and does not require EPA to protect vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women. The safety standard does not require EPA to consider cumulative risk from aggregate exposure.
- When submitting health and safety testing data, companies would be allowed to keep secret the names and other identifying features of their chemicals.
- The bill would not require basic safety data for new or existing chemicals.
- New chemicals could be manufactured and sold before the EPA fully evaluated their safety.
- It would not offer special protection from persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances – formerly known as POPs.
For information about Senator Vitter’s successful efforts to pull the teeth from any regulation about formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, see the EWG article of August 13, 2013, by Alex Formuzis.