Health Watchdog Warns: Chemical “Reform” Bill Would Put Americans at Greater Risk from Harmful Chemicals

Championed by the Petro-Chemical Industry, New Bill is “a Regulatory Trojan Horse” that Would Leave American Families at Increased Risk and Create the Industrialized World’s Most Impotent Regulations on Toxic Chemicals

New York, NY – Today US Congress member John Shimkus (R-IL) released a draft chemical policy bill, the Chemicals in Commerce Act. Proponents of the bill, including the chemical industry trade group the American Chemistry Council (ACC), claim the bill will update U.S. chemical safety rules.  However, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) warns that the bill fails to address the worst deficiencies in current chemical regulations and includes provisions that would deepen Americans’ risk from harmful chemicals in our air, waterways, food, and everyday consumer products.

“Under current federal regulations, EPA can’t even regulate asbestos. This proposal would not fix that problem,” cautioned Ansje Miller, Eastern States Director of CEH.  “Today’s draft would leave our children and families even more vulnerable to chemicals that devastate our health, our ability to learn, our fertility, and more.  It’s inconceivable that Congress is proposing this stealth attempt to further weaken our protection from toxic chemicals.”

In a clear end-run around state’s rights, the new bill would undermine state and local laws that currently protect American families from toxic chemicals.  Under the Chemicals in Commerce Act, dozens of state laws would likely be pre-empted by new toothless federal rules, eliminating important state standards that have protected millions of Americans from scores of cancer-causing and other harmful chemicals.  “Advocates for states’ rights have to be scratching their heads today,” said Miller. “Is Congressman Shimkus, one such advocate, really suggesting that the states should no longer have the right to set their own public health standards?”

Ms. Miller warns “the Chemicals in Commerce Act is a regulatory Trojan Horse riddled with loopholes and legal hooks deceptively crafted to widen the chemical industry’s legal authority to expose people to dangerous chemicals.”  For example, the House bill would allow EPA to deem chemicals to be “of low concern” even when it lacks sufficient data to make such a determination, thus allowing many dangerous chemicals, like those found in the recent West Virginia Elk River chemical spill, to enter our markets, our water, and our bodies.

The Chemicals in Commerce Act’s other major flaws include:

  • Its failure to call for immediate action to protect people from exceptionally harmful chemicals already in use;
  • Allowing new chemicals on store shelves without government review for health or safety;
  • Provisions that allow the chemical industry to keep health and safety information about chemicals secret from American families; and
  • Its failure to provide for specific action to protect those who are most at-risk from chemical hazards, including children and people living in highly polluted communities.

“Under current federal law, toxic chemicals are considered innocent until proven harmful.  The Chemicals in Commerce Act does nothing to change this outdated, backwards and deadly approach.  When you’re talking about toxic chemicals, ‘innocent until proven harmful’ just doesn’t work.  It’s a standard that kills the innocent,” says Ms. Miller.

“Rising rates of cancer, asthma, developmental illnesses, and other all-too-prevalent diseases associated with exposure to harmful chemicals leave no doubt:  now is the time to create meaningful, effective legislation to protect the health of future generations of Americans,” continues Ms. Miller.  “The Chemicals in Commerce Act and a similar reform effort in the Senate have created an opportunity to modernize federal chemical policy and craft a bipartisan law that protects all Americans from harmful chemicals. Squandering that opportunity with legislation that turns the clock back and preempts currently beneficial state laws is a fatal error.”

The Center for Environmental Health is working with advocates of meaningful chemical policy reform in Congress and urging them to go back to the drawing board to create a bill that puts American children, families, and communities ahead of chemical industry profits.  As Ms. Miller notes, “Federal reform of chemical policies doesn’t often grab the headlines, but these reform efforts represent our generation’s most important battle for children’s health.  We simply have to get them right.”

The Center for Environmental Health has a seventeen-year track record of protecting communities from the health impacts of toxic pollution. CEH also works with major industries and leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. In 2010, the San Francisco Business Times bestowed its annual “Green Champion” award to CEH for its work to improve health and the environment in the Bay Area and beyond.

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