Give that Tiger Some Teeth: A Historic Milestone in Protecting Americans from Toxic Chemicals

Parents and concerned Americans like you have been expressing frustration about our unregulated exposure to toxic chemicals that make us sick and it appears that Congress is finally listening. Regular readers of Generation Green know that  our chemical regulatory system is broken. The outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the main law to protect us from harmful chemicals, but as Senator Barbara Boxer recently noted, TSCA is  a “toothless tiger” that allows chemicals on the market without safety testing, and even after health problems arise gives regulators little authority to protect children and families.

But on the heels of an in-depth investigation by the Chicago Tribune about how the chemical industries lied to maintain their market for toxic flame retardant chemicals, the US House of Representatives last week held a hearing to examine the outdated fire standards that keep these chemicals on the market. Following the House hearing, the US Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee held an oversight hearing to shine a light on how the Environmental Protection Agency could allow flame retardants and other toxic chemicals on the market in the first place.

Kicking off the Senate hearing, Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention described how TSCA is implicated in this problem. When TBB, one of the newer flame retardant chemicals was first introduced, the EPA did a review, but was not allowed to ask for information on whether the chemical was bioaccumulative or persistent.  So, they had to rely on a model, which erroneously indicated that the chemical was neither. After the chemical was released onto the market, contaminating the environment and our bodies, scientists discovered that the chemical was both bioaccumulative AND persistent.

“The need for TSCA Reform grows,” said Jones. “Chemicals should be safe. The TSCA inventory lists over 84,000 chemicals, few of which have been tested for safety to the health of children.  The time to fix this badly outdated law is now.”

Following the hearing, the Senate took one step closer to giving that tiger some teeth. For the first time since the law was adopted in 1976, Congress held a vote on fixing the broken law. And we won! The Safe Chemicals Act, a bill introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg to modernize TSCA passed out of committee and is on its way to the Senate floor for a full vote.

This is a historic day,” said bill author Senator Frank Lautenberg. “It’s a milestone in our fight for a healthier society. Despite TSCA’s failure, the law has never been updated. Chemicals should be tested in industry labs not in our children’s bodies. Today we are step one step closer.

In response to the vote, the chemical industry trade group, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), issued a press release expressing disappointment in the partisan bill but noting they “remain committed” to TSCA reform. Meanwhile, via twitter they called for increased funding for “current TSCA authority” and noting that TSCA ” can continue to be an effective statute.”

#SOCMA urges Congress to increase funding for @EPAgov’s Office of Pollution Prevention & Toxics to fully implement current TSCA authorities

#TSCA, when fully utilized and adjusted to meet the new challenges we are facing, can continue to be an effective statute.

Were they really negotiating in good faith? Perhaps this is why the bi-partisan negotiations broke down.

Call your Senators today at 202-224-3121 and urge them to co-sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act (a current co-sponsors list is here).