Responding to Visit by Maine Moms, Senator Snowe Joins Call for Reform of Outdated Law
Press Release from ACHM, of which NRCM is a member
(WASHINGTON, DC) In a historic vote today, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) passed S.847, the Safe Chemicals Act, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). This is the first time in over three decades that Congress has voted on any proposal to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a 36-year-old law that is widely considered to be outdated and ineffective at protecting health and ensuring chemicals used in everyday products are adequately tested for safety.
The vote comes after months of formal and informal meetings between Lautenberg, chemical and consumer product companies, public health advocates, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. As a result, the original bill was changed substantially to address industry concerns about the speed, confidentiality, and burden of proof that will become part of the improved system, while still updating TSCA to ensure that dangerous chemicals are quickly identified and phased out of the market.
In an important show of bipartisan support, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe sent a letter to EPW Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) on Friday to “express my support for reform of our nation’s chemical safety law.” Snowe stated in her letter that “a law enacted in 1976 cannot effectively regulate our modern chemical industry” and “reforms must be made to ensure the safety and confidence of the millions of Americans who use these products. I am ready to join you in finally modernizing TSCA.”
Maine parents and advocates applauded Wednesday’s vote and bipartisan leadership by Senator Olympia Snowe that helped set the stage for the historical action.
“Today marks new exciting momentum for fixing our broken chemical law despite relentless attempts by the chemical industry to derail the process,” said Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center.”We’re thankful that Senators Snowe and Collins have demonstrated bipartisan support by calling for reform of the current law and we look forward to their help in bringing this bill to the Senate floor for a vote this fall.”
In May of this year, 25 Maine moms travelled by bus to Washington, DC to join a national “Safe Chemicals Stroller Brigade”. They met with Senators Snowe and Collins and returned to Maine hopeful that both Senators would take a leadership role in reforming TSCA. Senator Snowe referred to this visit by Maine moms in her press release that accompanied Friday’s letter.
“We are absolutely thrilled that Senator Snowe is joining the call for safer chemicals in everyday products, stated Tracy Gregoire, one of the moms on the bus and a Project Coordinator with the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. “This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue; it’s a children’s health issue. We appreciate Senator Snowe’s leadership in crafting a bipartisan solution.”
“We truly appreciate Senator Snowe’s letter and her careful attention to her constituents’s concerns about chemical safety reform,” said Kathy Kilrain del Rio of the Maine Women’s Lobby and one of the two dozen women who met with Snowe in May. “When women raise our voices together, we can be a powerful force to protect our families and communities.”
The momentum to reform TSCA has been building for years, led by parents, doctors, businesses, and state lawmakers. Research shows there is consistent and overwhelming bipartisan support, including 92% of Maine’s likely voters in a March 2012 survey; 88% of small businesses in an October 2011 survey; over 3,700 members from three state medical associations; and 97% of state legislators as evidenced by their votes on the Kid-Safe Products Act and a joint resolution in April of this year calling on Congress to take action. This joint resolution was sponsored by Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Washington County) and House Minority Leader Emily Cain (D-Orono) and was delivered to Senators Snowe and Collins by the two dozen Maine moms who took the bus to DC in May.
“The importance of chemical reform to public health cannot be underscored enough. We may not be able to cure diseases caused by an exposure, but we can prevent them with sound and proper testing as will be required under the Safe Chemicals Act,” said Karen D’Andrea, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility in Maine.
“This is the most important federal legislation to benefit American workers to come down the pike since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970,” stated John Newton of the Maine Labor Group on Health. “Workers need a law that requires chemical companies to prove that the chemicals they make are safe before they end up in the workplace and in products. We need the Safe Chemicals Act to assure chemicals are safe for workers and consumers.”
The EPW Committee vote on the Safe Chemicals Act comes on the heels of Tuesday’s oversight hearing on toxic flame retardant chemicals (PBDE’) and the role that several major chemical companies had in distorting the science and engaging in deceptive lobbying practices in order to protect the use of their chemicals in furniture and other products, despite evidence that the chemicals don’t effectively impede fires but just make them more toxic. The Centers for Disease Control have found PBDE’s in nearly every American, including all the pregnant women it has tested in its bio-monitoring program.
“The chemical industry’s lies and manipulations to allow flame retardants in our clothes and furniture were a shocking breach of trust,” stated Emily Figdor, Director of Environment Maine. “And it’s just one example of why we need to overhaul the rules that have allowed dangerous chemicals in everyday products. Senator Lautenberg has been bending over backwards to change the bill to address industry concerns, despite their ongoing efforts to delay and derail. Now it’s time for the rest of Congress to put the health of our nation’s children over the questionable motives of the chemical industry. It’s time to move forward and reform this broken system.”
The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine is a statewide coalition of over 50 public health, medical, parent, community, women’, worker, environmental, and public interest organizations. Alliance partners have been strong supporters of reforming TSCA and requiring chemical companies to demonstrate the safety of their products using the best available science, creating market incentives for safer alternatives, and giving parents the best information possible about chemicals in products their children use every day.
“The Safe Chemicals Act is a long overdue modernization of the Toxics Substances Control Act of 1976,” said Abby King, Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Today’s historic vote to overhaul our broken federal chemical policy is an important next step to ensuring that the products we use every day in our homes and schools are safe.”
“One of the most common pathways for exposure to toxic chemicals is through food packaging,” noted Heather Spalding, Deputy Director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “Chemicals like bisphenol A, perfluorochemicals, dioxin and benzene should have no place in our food supply, yet they occur readily in packaged groceries, and they find their way into our bodies. With the exponential growth in demand for foods grown without toxic agrichemicals, there is an urgent and logical need for packaging that doesn’t contaminate our healthy foods â especially the foods that we feed our children. The Safe Chemicals Act will help food processors and consumers make even more informed decisions about their food purchasing.”
“Dangerous chemicals don’t belong in our homes or everyday products,” stated Megan Hannan, Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “Toxic chemicals are linked to expensive chronic diseases, like fertility problems, learning disabilities, diabetes, and cancer. Here in Maine this exposure adds at least $380 million to our health costs every year. The impacts on our health and on our wallets are a tremendous burden shared by every family and business in Maine. The Safe Chemicals Act will improve health and lower costs, and that’s good for all of us.”
The full Senate is expected to take up the Safe Chemicals Act when they return from their August recess.