The sweetest sound coming from today’s US Senate hearing in Washington was the gentle voice of a child quietly playing in the back of the room. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, co-sponsor of the Safe Chemicals Act being discussed, commented, “There was one statement that wasn’t really a statement, it was a child’s voice, I loved that.” Much of what the adults had to say was typical of politics: Impassioned, yet factually based calls for a safer future for our children, countered by chemical industry representatives stalling on constructive progress for a federal safety measure.
Distinguished scientist Richard Denison, PhD, spoke on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund and the coalition Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “Over the past decade, a litany of serious concerns has emerged that calls into question the safety of the thousands of chemicals we use and encounter in our everyday lives.” Denison pointed out that 80% of chemicals entering the marketplace do so without enough data being reviewed to prove much of anything about their safety. “Given the limited authority and capacity that the EPA was given under TSCA it’s done as good a job as it can.” The Safe Chemicals Act is an effort to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act to make consumer products safe before they’re sold.
A bipartisan group of senators seems to be working toward some kind of agreement on the Safe Chemicals Act. Yet, they’re asking the chemical industry to be more specific about ways it can cooperate in the process.
American Chemistry Council President Cal Dooley repeatedly said the industry agrees on reforming TSCA, yet is concerned about protecting trade secrets, not stifling innovation and whether new safety requirements would be too cumbersome. Dooley gave a specific example of how defining pathways of chemical exposure could be too difficult by detailing the many ways chlorine is used in everyday products. Another industry representative called for more use and exposure information before making decisions.
Charlotte Brody of the BlueGreen Alliance made the case for green chemistry and better safety standards being good for business and jobs. She explained that global industries are already having to meet new European and Canadian standards. The state of Washington’s Ecology Director, Ted Sturdevant, noted that it would indeed be a paradigm shift to know that substances are safe before they go into commerce. A sticking point seems to be the so-called “risk based” evaluation of chemicals that the industry wants to use, which some scientists say doesn’t offer consumers enough protection.
Republican Senators Mike Crapo of Idaho and James Inhofe of Oklahoma participated in the hearing, offering hope that a bipartisan agreement could eventually be reached. One mutual goal seemed to be improving consumer confidence. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland explained that his state’s action to limit BPA, like several states, is not ideal; he said a uniform federal measure would be better. Cardin appealed to Dooley of the American Chemistry Council, “Too many people are affected by this, we’ve got to get this moving…This is a safety issue. We need your help and we don’t have time…”