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Cleaning Up the Chemical Safety Improvement Act

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Who just loves mopping floors?  You don’t?  Me either.  But I feel a deep sense of satisfaction when the hardwoods are shiny and dust-free and my kids remember to take their shoes off at the door so they don’t track in extra debris.  It just feels right to get a task like that done.

For the longest time, I’ve used nothing but a homemade vinegar mixture to mop my floors because I’ve been so concerned about what’s in popular cleaners that I grew up using in my childhood home.  I’ve learned that the fresh scent that indicated “clean” to my mom could be masking potentially harmful ingredients.  What about those vulnerable years when toddlers are crawling around on the floor and constantly putting their hands in their mouths?  It’s just not worth the risk of exposing my own daughters to questionable ingredients in cleaning products when I can simplify to reduce their risk.

Apparently the task of reforming America’s broken chemical safety policy is even more tedious than mopping the floor over and over again.  You think you get it all clean, then you spot another set of muddy shoe prints.

Here’s what we know after the July 31 landmark US Senate committee hearing on improving chemical safety:

*The old law from 1976, called the Toxic Substances Control Act, never did much to protect consumers in the first place.  Everyone agrees that TSCA needs an update.

*Science and health experts say toxins have become ubiquitous in our world, our households, and even our children’s bodies.  Many of these toxins are commonly found in consumer products, from lawns to living rooms and even the baby’s nursery.  Scientific evidence shows our tiny, everyday doses of toxins could be causing or contributing to everything from infertility to learning disabilities to cancer.

*Stronger language is needed in the proposed, bipartisan Chemical Safety Improvement Act if it is to fulfill the spirit of the earlier Safe Chemicals Act.  This includes being sure to protect the most vulnerable among us, including children and pregnant women.

*A strong federal law would be a positive step toward protecting citizens from toxins in our everyday products, but only if it respects the authority of states to also take protective steps on toxins.

*Chemical safety reform can be effective if it includes deadlines, adequate data and real authority for the Environmental Protection Agency to do its job.

*When you hear terms like “risk-based” (industry doubletalk) versus “precautionary principle” (what scientists and health advocates call for in the public interest) it refers to fundamental differences in values.

On a day when other, more controversial and salacious stories were filling mainstream media space, millions of people were engaging, mostly with social media, on the Environment and Public Works committee hearing that lasted nearly all day.  The hashtag term #saferchemicals topped the list of Twitter’s trending topics for a good portion of the day, second only to a paid promotion on Twitter for a movie.  Sure, celebrities were tweeting #saferchemicals. But the real stars of the environmental science world were sitting side by side in a packed meeting room where many of them testified before Congress.

Dignity Health’s Susan Vickers testified, “There must be a clear and direct path to get dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.”  Eastern States Director Ansje Miller with the Center for Environmental Health brought examples of children’s toys that have been made safer because of California’s tough stance on chemical safety.  She and others noted why a new federal law shouldn’t weaken the way some states are already protecting their citizens.

Witnesses included widow Linda Reinstein who had lost her husband to mesothelioma after his asbestos exposure. Perhaps the strongest evidence that TSCA needs reform is that even asbestos, for all we know of its dangers, still can’t be properly regulated by the EPA.  As the popular Safe Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition has clearly explained, you’d think someone was minding the store, but they’re not.  While representatives of the chemical and toy industry weren’t necessarily on the same page as science and health experts, they were at least taking part in a constructive conversation.  And so were concerned moms, bloggers and advocacy journalists across the country.

@ToyIndustryAssn There is no acceptable level of harm when it comes to my children #thisispersonal #saferchemicals
— Flour Sack Mama (@FlourSackMama) July 31, 2013

You can take action today to tell Congress you expect a stronger bill to protect children, pregnant women and other vulnerable citizens.

More here about the busy Twitter chat about #saferchemicals.

Here’s another look at what Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families wants for families.

And here’s an op-ed piece by the SCHF campaign director.

You can even watch all or part of the hearing for yourself at this US Senate link.

When we examine ways that chemical safety reform could affect our everyday lives and our children’s exposures to potentially harmful toxins, it becomes very personal.  If you feel that this measure hits close to home for you and your family, you can also write a personal letter to your US Senator and to the editor of your local newspaper telling how it affects you.  Will clear, constructive changes clean up this measure that still seems a bit muddy?  Who knows?  Whether you’re writing a letter or choosing how to clean your house or deciding this it somebody else’s problem, this issue already affects you and the people you love.

Tomorrow on  meet concerned more moms and dads who are spreading the word about reducing toxic exposures and protecting our children.

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