US Senate Committee vote brings chemical reform a step closer

By Joe Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags United states senate

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 passed by Senate committee
A US Senate panel has passed a bill aimed at overhauling federal law on toxic chemicals that would mean chemical companies would have to prove their substances are safe before going to market.

The Environmental and Public Work Committee vote could pave the way for legislation that hasn’t been updated since the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) 1976.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), was opposed by all republican senators on the committee.  

The bill is expected to be heard in the Senate in September, if it passes that stage it will go to the House and if approved there it will be signed by the President and become law. 

Shift burden of proof  ​ 

The bill seeks to require chemical manufacturers, such as DuPont and Dow Chemical, to demonstrate the safety of chemicals used in products and then the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would determine their safety and restrict uses of ones that cannot be proven safe. 

Under the current law the EPA has to show a chemical poses an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment before it can be regulated.

Mark Mitchell, MD Co-Chair of the National Medical Association’s Environmental Health Task Force,​ told the bill was opposed by republican senators due to the lack of time they had to review the new language in the revised bill put forward by Senator Lautenberg. 

There have already been a lot of bi-partisan discussions and a lot of progress has been made. 

“We are hopeful of a September vote and Senator Lautenberg is open to amending the bill so we can move forward.” 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists 84,000 chemical substances on the Inventory, which means they are considered "existing​" chemicals in US commerce, of which 62,000 chemicals were "grandfathered in​" when TSCA was enacted. 

Mitchell said: “The EPA need to confirm how many of the 84,000 chemicals are actually used in commerce as the first thing. 

“Then they need to prioritize which need to be measured and group them clearly in non-toxic to very toxic and which need to be managed or banned and then determine the middle group​.” 

Call for a solution

There needs to be a bi-partisan solution to stop the US falling behind Europe, he added.

“It is clear to me that there is poor regulation and me, and my colleagues, recognize disease in patients’ are due to chemical exposure, it is concerning and of interest to see solutions passed. 

“It would be ideal to get a Federal Law or different states will move to pass their own legislation​.” 

Mitchell added that chemical and downstream companies risk losing faith with customers who are concerned with chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and BPS as they are chemicals which have been linked to a variety of diseases and are related to exposure. 

“If the chemical industry doesn’t come around and stop resisting moves towards updated legislation it will be difficult to regain public credibility. 

“It could lead to consumers only buying EU products, I don’t know that but I am guessing that is what could happen.” 

ACC response​ 

In a statement released after the decision, the American Chemical Council (ACC) said: “We are very disappointed that Senators Boxer and Lautenberg moved forward with a partisan markup of a bill that is inconsistent with the bipartisan negotiations that had just gotten underway in mid-June.  

“We are also troubled that less than twenty-four hours before the markup Senator Lautenberg released a 174-page revised version of the Safe Chemicals Act. 

“Specifically, the bill would establish an unworkable safety standard, and would require an enormous amount of additional government resources to implement.”

Related topics Food safety & quality

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