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Federal Chemical Policy Reform

News Release

Health and Community Advocates Overwhelmingly Oppose Vitter-Udall Takeover of Nation’s Toxic Chemical Safety Laws

For Immediate Release: March 31st, 2015

Bill Aims to Block State Actions While Delaying Federal Reviews Up To 7 Years with No Deadline for Restricting Even the Most Dangerous Chemicals

Communities of Color and Low-Income Communities Would Still Receive No Protection

Today, advocates from more than 50 environmental justice, health, sustainable business and community organizations delivered a letter to the United States Senate in opposition to S. 697, which could block states from taking new actions to protect consumers and communities from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Advocates noted that the proposed bill would actually be worse than current law and would fail to create effective reform of the nation’s toxic chemical safety program. The law would only require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin reviewing 25 chemicals in the first five years with up to up to 7 years to complete each review. Meanwhile, the bill would deny states the ability to take new regulatory actions on any of these “high-priority” chemicals.

“This isn't chemical safety reform; this bill is an attack on state's ability to protect the health of our families," said Juan Parras, with the group T.E.J.A.S. in Houston, Texas. “While this bill pretends to be chemical safety reform, it really just blocks states from taking action while allowing the chemical industry to continue exposing us to untested and potentially dangerous substances. This bill offers few if any meaningful protections, including for communities already suffering horribly from toxic contamination. Congress should be working to ensure all chemicals are proven safe before exposing our families to them, instead of working to ensure the chemical industry has a free pass through agencies which are responsible for our safety."

Public health and safety advocates described numerous troubling concerns with S. 697, including:

  • S. 697 would not explicitly protect communities affected by legacy chemical contamination, or by chemical disasters such as the 2014 Elk River spill in West Virginia that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people.

  • S. 697 would not explicitly require EPA to consider the cumulative burden of chemical pollution--which is essential for people who live near highly contaminated industrial and military sites or are disproportionately exposed to chemicals through food or at their workplace.

  • S. 697 lacks strict deadlines that ensure that EPA can make meaningful progress reviewing and regulating the hundreds of chemicals of concern. It would require only that EPA start the review of 25 chemicals within five years and would allow the agency up to seven years to review each substance. There is no clear deadline for implementing restrictions or phase-outs of even the most toxic chemicals.

  • S. 697 will deny states the ability to take new actions to regulate any “high priority” chemicals for which EPA has initiated a safety review, despite the several-year gap in protections before EPA takes action. Only state actions taken by January 1st, 2015 are explicitly grandfathered in, creating further ambiguity about state-level protections remaining in place until EPA acts to restrict a chemical of concern.

  • S. 697 would allow manufacturers to receive expedited review of their favored chemicals, but it would not require expedited review of toxic chemicals most clearly needed with regard to the public interest, such as asbestos and other persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative substances.

  • S. 697 would add yet another hurdle to the process of regulating products containing toxic chemicals. The bill would require EPA to show that people have  “significant exposure” to the chemical in the product before taking regulatory action, which provides another avenue for challenges from industry.  

  • S. 697 does not ensure that EPA’s chemical safety review program is adequately funded. It in fact limits industry sources of funding, effectively hobbling EPA’s ability to effectively safeguard public health from toxic chemicals. S. 697 requires that industry contribute only 25 percent of the total cost to EPA, with a cap of $18 million per year total for all chemicals under review.

“S. 697 is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. While purporting to update our nation’s chemical safety laws, the bill actually guts current protections which are largely held at the state level. States, responding to the very real harm caused by toxic chemicals in our products, workplaces and homes, have taken action to protect the public, especially children. Now, this vaguely worded law could undermine some of the 250 laws in 38 states that reduce exposure to dangerous substances,” said Kathy Curtis, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York.

“It is no surprise that a bill written and backed by the chemical industry is bad for consumers and bad for public health,” said Ken Cook, president and cofounder of the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "What is truly disturbing is that Congress is actually considering it. Americans deserve more from their elected leaders. We need a chemical law that strengthens safety reviews and preserves the roles of states to help protect them and their families from toxic and potentially harmful substances.”

“Our indigenous peoples in Alaska and the Arctic have some of the highest exposures to persistent bioaccumulative toxics (PBTs) of any population on the planet and we suffer disproportionate health harms including cancers, birth defects and learning and developmental disabilities,” said Vi Waghiyi, Health and Justice Program Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Vi is a Yupik Grandmother from Savoonga, Alaska, now living on St. Lawrence Island. “The Vitter-Udall bill does not protect our lands, waters and the health and well-being of our people. It does not address these PBTs. We cannot support it.”

Kathy Attar, Toxics Program Manager with Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) said, "It's time to put health first. The Udall-Vitter bill fails to protect communities from legacy exposures and accidental chemical spills. And it ignores the recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences to look at aggregate exposures when assessing chemical safety. All people deserve a regulatory system that reduces and prevents toxic exposures, and the Udall-Vitter bill isn't it."

“The National Academy of Sciences reports that over a quarter of learning and developmental disabilities are caused in part by exposure to toxic chemicals,” said Tracy Gregoire of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. “It only makes sense to eliminate these preventable causes. We need real reform that quickly phases out the worst chemicals linked to developmental disabilities.”

“In January 2014, 300,000 West Virginians learned the severe inadequacies in our nation's chemical classification laws and how little they adequately reflect human and environmental risk.” said Maya Nye, executive director of People Concerned About Chemical Safety. “When a chemical used in energy development contaminated the state's largest drinking water supply, public health officials didn't have toxicity data needed to base their public health decisions.”

Erin Switalski, executive director of Women’s Voices for the Earth said “Congress can and should do better to protect us from chemicals found in everyday consumer products that cause cancer, birth defects, infertility, and a whole host of other chronic diseases. We don’t need a bill written by the chemical industry. What we need is real reform that will give the public peace of mind that the products they are bringing into their home and using on a daily basis will not harm their health. Women’s Voices for the Earth is urging senators not to sign on to the bill until some of these serious flaws are addressed.”

"More than 30 years ago EPA started a review of dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, but still has not finalized any action," said Katie Huffling, a registered nurse and director of programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. "When we have babies being born pre-polluted with a toxic soup of chemicals and rising rates of diseases linked to chemicals in our environment - cancer, autism, asthma, and reproductive issues to just name a few - we need quick action. Unfortunately, we can expect the  same slow response under the Vitter-Udall bill, but meanwhile states who have been making strides to protect the health of their citizens would also be blocked from taking action. Americans deserve a bill that will truly protect public health and this isn't it."

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To view a copy of the letter opposing S. 697 and other statements from our network partners click here.

Available for Comment

Alexandra Scranton; Director of Science and Research, Women’s Voices for the Earth ; (406) 543-3747, alexs@womensvoices.org. Alexandra can address how regulatory failure has contributed to toxic chemicals in products we use every day.

Jamie McConnell; Director of Programs and Policy, Women's Voices for the Earth ; (406) 543-3747, jamies@womensvoices.org. Jamie can address how regulatory failure has contributed to toxic chemicals in products we use every day, and what needs to be in TSCA reform to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.

Juan Parras; Executive Director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services; (281) 513-7799, parras.juan@gmail.com. Juan works with those most impacted by chemicals in the Houston area and runs "toxic tours" showing the shocking conditions where people are.

Kathleen A. Curtis, LPN; Executive Director, Clean & Healthy New York; Former Policy Director, Clean New York, a project of Women's Voices for the Earth; Co-Coordinator, Workgroup for Public Policy Reform, Coming Clean; (518) 355-6202, kathy@cleanhealthyny.org. Kathy can address efforts in New York state, the importance of states to be able to have their own strong chemicals policies, and can talk about national work to reform TSCA and chemical regulations for safer chemicals in general.   

Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM; Director of Programs, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments; Co-Coordinator, Workgroup for Public Policy Reform, Coming Clean; (240) 753-3729, katie@envirn.org. Katie can address concerns from nurses and helath care prodvers about chemical exposure issues.

Pam Miller; Founder and Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics; (907) 222-7714, pamela@akaction.org. Pam can address the drift of POPs chemicals from lower hemispheres, putting Indigenous peoples in the Arctic at great risk for illness from chemical contaminants and can also address the several hundred toxic waste dump sites, now leaking chemicals due to global warming, and contaminating water, soil and air near communities. 

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