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States Take Action on Toxics, Congress to Review Federal Law

(Beyond Pesticides, February 4, 2011) In response to continued public concern over the presence of dangerous chemicals in common household products, legislators and advocates in 30 states across the country and the District of Columbia have announced legislation aimed at protecting children and families from harmful chemicals. Despite well-funded opposition from the chemical industry, 18 state legislatures have already passed 71 chemical safety laws in the last eight years by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin – with more to come this year.

Congress has also begun to take action on the matter, after being criticized for lagging behind, in the form of initiating a review of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) this week. The TSCA is the federal law that governs the control of chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment.

Dangerous chemicals, including pesticides, can be commonly found in household products ranging from cosmetics to toys to fabrics. One of the most prevalent of these substances, the antimicrobial triclosan, has been linked to a range of adverse health and environmental effects including skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, endocrine disruption, and increased risk of antibiotic resistance to tainted water, dioxin contamination, and destruction of fragile aquatic ecosystems.

“With over half of state legislatures introducing policies that protect kids and families from toxic chemicals, Congress and chemical industry lobbyists should take notice. As long as toxic chemicals such as cadmium and BPA remain in consumer products, states will continue to pass commonsense policies to address this serious public health threat,” said Laurie Valeriano, Policy Director at the Washington Toxics Coalition in Seattle, Washington.

Increasing rates of chronic diseases linked to toxic chemical exposure, including cancer, asthma, and infertility, have created an urgency in state capitols to enact policies to get harmful chemicals off the market. To learn more about how pesticides are linked to serious health concerns, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Diseases database.

Bills to be considered in the 30 states include: bans on BPA and hazardous flame retardants in consumer products; requirements that children’s product manufacturers use only the safest chemicals; and resolutions urging Congress to overhaul the TSCA.

“A substantial body of scientific research shows that the public is exposed to chemicals that increase the risk of serious health threats, including cancer, asthma, infertility, and learning and developmental disabilities,” said Dr. Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. “For most chemicals, no Government agency has the authority to require safety testing before they are put into widespread use. It’s an uncontrolled experiment, and individuals and families across the country are paying the price.”

Despite overwhelming public support for stronger laws on toxic chemicals, Congress has largely heeded the aggressive opposition of chemical industry lobbyists in the past, rather than the support of the American electorate, and failed to pass TSCA reform legislation three times in the last six years.

However, the battle will continue at the federal level in 2011, starting with the review of the TSCA announced this week. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D – NJ) scheduled a hearing to be held yesterday, February 3, with members of the chemical industry and public health experts. Public health groups, such as Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families – a coalition of nearly 300 environmental health groups – are urging Congress to strengthen the law by restricting chemicals known to be dangerous and requiring testing of new and existing chemicals to ensure that they are safe.

Beyond Pesticides, in addressing these issues, has called for alternatives assessment in environmental rulemaking that creates a regulatory trigger to adopt alternatives and drive the market to go green. The alternatives assessment approach differs most dramatically from risk assessment in rejecting uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, but unnecessary because of the availability of safer alternatives. For example, in agriculture, where the Pesticide Induced Diseases database shows clear links to pesticide use and multiple types of cancer, it would no longer be possible to use hazardous pesticides, as it is with risk assessment-based policy (under laws such as the Food Quality Protection Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide act), when there are clearly effective organic systems with competitive yields that, in fact, outperform chemical-intensive agriculture in drought years. This same analysis can be applied to home and garden use of pesticides where households using pesticides suffer elevated rates of cancer.

A map of the U.S. showing states that are introducing reform can be found here.

Take Action: The deadline has been extended for the public to comment on Beyond Pesticides’ petition calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban triclosan. Individuals now have until April 8, 2011 to submit comments.

• Click here to send an email directly to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The link (sponsored by Organic Consumers Association) sends an automated message to Lisa Jackson, or;
• Submit your own comments to the docket directly by clicking here. Fill in the form to submit your comments to the Federal Register (this method offers different levels of privacy). For a more impactful statement, use your own language.

Want to do more? You can also join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today. Avoid products containing triclosan, and encourage your local schools, government agencies, and local businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free. Urge your municipality, institution or company to adopt the model resolution which commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan.

Source: Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families press release


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