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Europe's Toxics Debate Influence Lawmakers To Toughen U.S. Laws
(Beyond Pesticides, November 25, 2003) Influential Democrats in Congress are expressing interest and intent to introduce legislation that would strengthen current laws on toxic chemicals, according to the well-established Washington insider publication: InsideEPA. The move is based on the hotly-debated reforms of chemical regulation in the European Union.

Interviews with several Democratic aides revealed that legislation is currently being drafted to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) - the Act which essentially gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) legal jurisdiction to implement chemical regulations. Meanwhile Democrats may ask the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, for a study to analyze if the TSCA is really safeguarding public health from hazardous substances as it was intended.

Such investigation and proposed legislation is exactly the kind of thing chemical companies - and the Bush Administration - have feared while debating chemical regulation reform in Europe. In September of this year, a report was released by over 70 U.S. health and environmental NGOs documenting the overly-aggressive measures the Bush administration has taken to pressure European policy makers to reject the European Commission's chemical reform policy called REACH (Register, Evaluate and Authorise new Chemicals). (See Daily News story.)

The European legislation would require manufacturers to provide information about the effects on health and environment of their products before the products can be registered for use on the market. In other words, the onus of safety would be on the company prior to registration. It also allows the EU to ban or restrict the use of the most hazardous chemicals. The reform would impact 20,000 of the 30,000 or so chemicals currently in use in the EU.

Although the Bush Administration's efforts so far have been unsuccessful in stopping the progress of the REACH proposal (which should be up for a vote in Parliament in 2005), many European NGOs complain that the reform plan does not go far enough. Criticisms of the watered down version of REACH include excessive confidentiality rights for businesses, cuts in safety data requirements, exclusions for chemicals in certain consumer products and the persistent allowance of hazardous chemical use when safer alternatives are available.

Congressional aides recognized however that a serious overhaul of U.S. chemical policy under the TSCA would be all but impossible until the next U.S. election when a shift may occur in the currently Republican-run House, Senate and White House - a sentiment commonly echoed by environmentalists and other progressives. Yet, frustrations over the EPA's legal weaknesses and perverse risk assessment method are escalating. "'EPA can't even ban asbestos,'" exclaimed one Democratic aide. The aide was referring to the EPA's failed attempt to ban the chemical, a known carcinogen, in 1989 due to the EPA's own definitions of "unreasonable risk".

Although references like "Democrats in the House and Senate" left details vague in the InsideEPA piece, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was referred to by name while others, mostly from California, were implied through interviews with several congressional aides. Lautenberg has often been associated with spearheading regulations on toxic materials.

Source: Children's Environmental Health