Great Opportunity to Protect American Families from Toxic Chemicals

Last week brought welcome news to anyone concerned about the prevalence of toxic chemicals in our everyday lives. Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced legislation and Congressmen Bobby Rush and Henry Waxman unveiled draft legislation to reform the grossly inadequate Toxic Substances Control Act.

It doesn’t require an advanced degree in chemistry to realize what is wrong with the current law.

If you have ever stood in a store trying to figure out if the baby shampoo you are buying includes phthalates--chemicals linked to altered genital development and low sperm count--then you already know.

Or if you have ever wondered if your loved one’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other forms of cognitive decline may be associated with previous exposure to toxic chemicals, as some researchers are beginning to discover, then you already know.

Or, if like me, you are a breast cancer survivor, and you have asked your oncologist if bisphenol-A--one of the 50 most produced chemicals in the world and found in plastic water jugs, canned food liners, take-out food containers, and many other plastics--really does ramp up cell growth in breast tissue, then you already know.

You already know that the current law places the burden on ordinary citizens--and not the manufacturers--to detect dangerous toxins and keep them out of our homes.

We like to assume that someone is carefully regulating the levels of toxins in daily products, but that simply isn’t the case:

  • Of the 62,000 chemicals that existed when the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976 were simply grandfathered in without additional testing or review.
  • Of the 22,000 chemicals that have come into use since then, industry has provided the EPA with health data for only 15 percent.

TSCA hasn’t even been able to ban asbestos!

If the law designed to safeguard us from toxic chemicals can only manage a small handful out of 84,000 over the course of 35 years, then it is obviously broken.

Now we have an opportunity to fix it. The Obama Administration supports reforming TSCA, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has already asked Congress to provide her agency with better tools for managing chemicals. Last week, lawmakers in the House and Senate responded by introducing new bills.

Each bill will go a long way toward strengthening our chemical policies. They will:

  • Expand the public’s right to know about the health and safety effects of most chemicals
  • Require chemicals to meet a safety standard that protects children and other vulnerable populations
  • Put the burden on the chemical industry to prove that its products are safe

This is the best opportunity we have had in thirty-five years to fortify the shield that protects our families from dangerous chemicals.

Yet real reform will occur only if Americans make their voices heard. The Obama administration has a crowded domestic agenda, and in order for chemical reform to rise to the top, we must unleash public demand for it. And we must sustain that demand, because the chemical industry has very, very deep pockets with which to finance its opposition to progress.

Still, I believe that if enough people push our lawmakers to do the right thing, we can help keep our families safer. Please join me in spreading the word about this opportunity.