Federal Chemical Protections in Need of Major Overhaul, NRDC's Beinecke says

Congress Should Act Now To Prevent Cancers, Infertility, and Learning Disabilities

WASHINGTON (February 3, 2011) -- Congress is long overdue to update the federal law that protects Americans from exposure to toxic chemicals in consumer products, Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke told a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee panel today.

When Congress enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976,  it allowed 62,000 chemicals to continue to be used without determining their safety or testing for their effects on health or the environment. In the 35 years since, the Environmental Protection Agency has required testing of fewer than 300 of these chemicals, and has regulated only five. Meanwhile, for most of the 22,000 new chemicals introduced since 1976, chemical manufacturers have provided little or no information to the EPA regarding those chemicals’ potential health or environmental impacts.

“It was a mistake 35 years ago when TSCA grandfathered in all of the chemicals then in commerce,” Beinecke told the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health today.  “Two generations later, we find ourselves with hundreds of chemicals in our bodies and rates of cancer, developmental and learning disabilities, reproductive problems, birth defects and other disorders on the rise.”

High rates of diseases, including prostate and breast cancers, childhood cancers, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, infertility, and learning and developmental disabilities cannot be solely attributed to genetic factors or improved surveillance and detection. Exposure to a multitude of untested chemicals is likely a contributing factor, according to NRDC.

“There are legitimate reasons for public concern that ongoing exposure to a mix of chemicals can play a part in the rise of certain illnesses,” said Beinecke, herself a breast cancer survivor. “Some chemicals we know can cause cancer, disrupt hormones or are toxic to our nervous system. Others, frankly, we know very little about.”

“We now face a tall order: We need to determine which chemicals that are used in commerce are safe, and we need to break free of the legal restrictions and red tape that have prevented EPA from quickly reducing exposure to those that have strong evidence of harm and widespread exposure. States will continue to act in the face of inaction at the national level, while public trust in the safety of numerous products will continue to decline.  That prospect should be enough to keep everyone at the table until a deal can be reached.”

For more information, visit www.takeouttoxics.org