Legislation to overhaul the “Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976” (TSCA) was introduced in the U.S. Congress this month. The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” was introduced by U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health.
“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,”said Senator Lautenberg.“Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a common-sense issue and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this measure.”
The new legislation will give U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more power to regulate the use of dangerous chemicals and require manufacturers to submit information proving the safety of every chemical in production and any new chemical seeking to enter the market.
Lautenberg and other members of Congress sponsored a toxic chemicals policy reform proposal known as the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act in 2005 and again in 2008, but these measures did not have the broad support that has coalesced behind the current initiative. Today, the search for environmental causes of disease is a front-burner issue for scientists, medical professionals, policy-makers and health advocates. President Obama, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, key members of both houses of Congress, the environmental and health communities, countless citizens and the chemical industry itself agree that a new national policy must be crafted to fit the complex realities of the 21st century.
In the last decade, studies have revealed that industrial chemicals and other compounds are present in virtually every watershed in the United States. There is growing concern that even at low concentrations, these chemicals may adversely affect fish, wildlife, ecosystems, and human health.
For this reason, the Minnesota legislature commissioned a statewide Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) study on Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. Twelve lakes and 4 rivers around the state were sampled for the MPCA study. They were selected to represent a wide range of land use and development. Northern Light Lake, in Cook County, was chosen as a reference lake because of its remote location and absence of development. Researchers thought the lake would be free of chemical contamination, but it didn’t turn out that way. Several chemicals were found in the sediment and surface water of Northern Light Lake, including carbamazepine, a drug used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the painkiller acetaminophen, Bisphenol A, and the insecticide DEET. Finding these compounds in a lake with no development or obvious sources of pollution came as a surprise to the MPCA.
The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” requires safety testing of all industrial chemicals, and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order stay on the market. Under current policy, the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.