Federal Chemical Safety Legislation Introduced Today
by the Alliance for A Clean and Healthy Maine
Public health and environmental advocates in Maine sent a letter today urging Maine’s Congressional delegation to strengthen proposed federal legislation by adding provisions from a new Maine law that requires substitution of unnecessary toxic chemicals with safer alternatives. Following passage of safer chemical laws in Maine and several other states, federal lawmakers introduced legislation today to overhaul the nation’s chemical policies. Maine’s environmental health community applauded Congress for pursuing chemical policy reform, given the widespread reports about dangerous chemicals in baby bottles, plastic toys, home electronics, furniture, and other everyday consumer products.
In the letter to Senators Snowe and Collins and Representatives Allen and Michaud, the Maine organizations made the case that federal legislation ought to better reflect modern policy development of the last decade by Maine, other states, major corporations, and the European Union, all of which have adopted policies that emphasize substitution of unnecessary hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives.
“Our federal safety system for industrial chemicals is badly broken, so chemical policy reform is long overdue. However, defining acceptable levels of risk for thousands of chemicals in commerce, as proposed in the federal bill, will not deliver timely and practical public health protection by itself,” said Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Maine based public health organization. “To fully protect our families, federal policy must ensure that dangerous chemicals in everyday products are replaced whenever safer alternatives are available.”
Introduction of the federal bill comes the day before Governor Baldacci is scheduled to celebrate passage of the Maine Kid Safe Products Bill, LD 2048 sponsored by House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree (D-North Haven). Last month, following the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force to Promote Safer Chemicals in Consumer Products, the Maine Legislature overwhelmingly passed this safer chemical policy by a vote 35-0 in the State Senate and 129-9 in the House of Representatives. The new law authorizes Maine to require safer alternatives to priority chemicals in consumer products whenever children are exposed and such alternatives are proven to be available, effective, and affordable. The new Maine law has been widely heralded as a model of health protective policy.
“This first step in reducing our children’s exposure to dangerous chemicals is as significant a “public health” revolution, as when the first action was taken to control infectious diseases through clean water and improved sanitation,” remarked Kellie Miller, Director of Public Health Policy at the Maine Medical Association upon passage of the Maine bill.
“It is encouraging that federal lawmakers want to improve national chemical policies, but the bill needs to be strengthened to require manufacturers to use practical safer alternatives to the most hazardous chemicals,” said Matt Prindiville, Policy Advocate of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine’s leading environmental advocacy organization. “States are making big strides to get toxic chemicals out of consumer products. Lawmakers need to ensure that the federal bill builds on state progress to protect children’s health from unneeded toxic chemicals.”
Today’s introduction of the federal Kid Safe Chemicals Act signals that Congress will soon begin the lengthy process of overhauling the failed and outdated federal Toxic Substances Control Act (ToSCA) of 1976. Reform of ToSCA is long overdue. It is the only federal environmental statute to have never been reauthorized since its adoption over 30 years ago. When ToSCA was passed, 62,000 chemicals in commerce were grandfathered in without mandatory health and safety testing or restrictions on use. Under ToSCA the EPA has required chemical manufacturers to test fewer than 200 chemicals and has restricted only five chemicals in commerce.
The federal Kid Safe Chemicals Act has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and in the House by Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Hilda Solis (D-CA). These identical measures are based on a 12-year old pesticide law and emphasize improved risk assessment methods to identify unacceptable levels of harm from exposure to industrial chemicals.
New scientific understanding about how synthetic chemicals accumulate in the human body and mimic the functions of hormones, which guide development and reproductive processes, provide striking and urgent evidence of the failures of the current federal chemical regulation system. Recent studies show that rising rates of diseases and disorders – including cancers, early onset of puberty, obesity, and neurological developmental effects — may be linked to even very low level chemical exposure. Children are more vulnerable than adults to the harmful effects of exposure to some synthetic chemicals.