Guest post by LCV Legislative Associate Madeleine Foote:
Besides the Beatles, the late 60’s and 70’s are also famous for producing many of our major environmental laws, most of which have been reviewed and updated by Congress over the years, except for one: the Toxics Substance Control Act (TSCA). Modernization has eluded TSCA, the law with the vitally important job of protecting our health from the risks posed by toxic chemicals in our everyday products. Mounting scientific evidence has continually demonstrated that TSCA has failed in its job and has greatly limited the EPA’s ability to regulate chemicals that have been linked to rising rates of cancer, learning disabilities, neurological diseases, infertility, asthma, and a host of other health problems. But this week, after 36 years of inaction, it appears that change is in the air: the Senate’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee voted Wednesday in favor of sending the Safe Chemicals Act (SCA), a bill that brings significant and much-needed reform to our broken chemical policy, to consideration by the full Senate!
It has indeed been a long and winding road: Senator Frank Lautenberg, Chairman of the Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health Subcommittee and the sponsor of the SCA, first introduced a version of the SCA back in 2005. Since then, health advocates, environmental groups, scientists, and even journalists like the Chicago Tribune, have been beating the drum for reform and demonstrating how toxic chemicals have permeated our lives. For example, an American baby born today has the highest concentration of dangerous flame retardant chemicals in the world, and a 2011 study of pregnant women found that 99-100% of them had chemicals, such as pesticides, PFCs, phthalates, PCBs, and many more, coursing through their body and ultimately through their child. We picked up speed on our road this month as both the Senate Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee and the EPW Committee held hearings on the effectiveness and health risks of flame retardants, (a note: flame retardants are not effective at preventing or slowing fires and have been linked to developmental disabilities in children and increased cancer rates in firefighters). If there was still any doubt, these hearings demonstrated just how TSCA is failing the public, not just on flame retardants, but in determining the safety of all chemicals.
Senator Lautenberg has continued to work eight days a week to address concerns raised by the chemical industry and Congressional Republicans, engaging in a series of talks with Senator Inhofe’s office last summer and early fall as well as discussions with Senator Vitter’s office this summer. This commitment to a bi-partisan process and willingness to engage with all the stakeholders resulted in a compromise amendment to the SCA, ensuring that the new system allowed for protection from toxic chemicals while still creating an innovative and workable environment for the industry. When the Committee voting began, however, it became clear that Big Chemical was not actually interested in moving forward, even if the new version of the bill addressed the majority of their concerns. Committee Republicans fell in line with industry talking points that distorted the truth and then voted no on the SCA, demonstrating their loyalty to protecting industry profits at the expense of the health of our families.
After 36 years of waiting, we can no longer let it be: our current chemical policy is broken and failing to protect our public health. We applaud Senator Lautenberg for his dedication and leadership on this issue, as well as EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer and Committee Democrats for not allowing special interests to get in the way of real chemical policy reform. It will be a difficult challenge; we are definitely not at the end of the road and there are plenty more twists, and maybe even some shouts, along the way. We must come together, right now, and work to ensure that we fix our broken system and finally give TSCA the reform it needs. We hope that all Senators will vote for the Safe Chemicals Act when the time comes and ensure that our health and our environment are protected from the risks posed by toxic chemicals.