The Environmental Health Initiative (EHI) of AAIDD joined a broad coalition of more than 200 public health and environmental organizations, called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, to announce its support for the newly introduced “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010”. The Senate bill was introduced on April 15 by Senator Lautenberg, and Congressmen Waxman and Rush released a discussion draft of legislation. The long-awaited, landmark legislation would overhaul the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals.
“We at AAIDD urge Congress to strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to take swift action on the worst chemicals – the ones that we already know are linked to disease and disability, and that accumulate in our bodies,” said Joyce Martin, Director of Health Policy, Environmental Health Initiative at AAIDD. “We look forward to a bill that protects all of us, and especially the most vulnerable, from dangerous chemicals. “
While there are differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation, the bills include a number of essential reforms that would substantially improve public health protections, including requiring chemical companies to develop and make publicly available basic health and safety information for all chemicals and requiring chemicals to meet a safety standard that protects vulnerable sub-populations, including pregnant women and children.
“Learning disability groups, along with our coalition partners at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, have been advocating for this day for over two years. Our many staff meetings and testimonies on Capitol Hill have driven home the message that developing brains need protection from toxic chemicals and that the health cost of continuing present policy is too high in both intellectual damage and health care dollars,” said Maureen Swanson, Director of the Healthy Children Project of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA).
The Safe Chemicals Act would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). The current TSCA law is widely acknowledged to be ineffective. TSCA ‘grandfathered in’ 62,000 chemicals in use at the time it passed without requiring any testing or demonstration of safety. In the ensuing three decades under TSCA, EPA has required testing for only a few hundred of those chemicals and has only partially restricted five. Meanwhile, a growing body of science has documented widespread human exposures to toxic chemicals in everyday products, and has linked those exposures to the rising incidence of a number of serious chronic diseases and disorders, including reduced fertility, learning and developmental disabilities, breast and prostate cancer, and certain childhood cancers.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, sponsor of the bill, stated that “America's system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken. Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children's bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals, and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe.”
AAIDD and the coalition called for improvements in three critical areas. As currently drafted, the legislation would:
• Allow hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be shown to be safe.
• Not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals like asbestos and lead, which already have been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world.
• Would not require EPA to adopt the National Academy of Sciences’ recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals, although the Senate bill does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.
“Leaders in the learning and developmental disabilities field, and especially those of us who represent the autism community, look forward to working with Congress to develop a workable and defensible chemical policy for the nation,” said Donna Ferullo, Director of Research Programs, The Autism Society . “This can best be accomplished by closing loopholes for review of new chemicals and strengthening EPA’s authority to take swift action on the worst.”