Monday, June 3, 2013

Lautenberg's Legacy

There's been some recent movement on the effort to modernize and improve the woefully inadequate Toxic Substances Control Act that has been in effect for over 30 years. As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, a bill was written (the Safe Chemicals Act) that would require manufacturers to prove products safe before they are allowed to be sold. That bill failed to garner bi-partisan support, but a compromise bill with an equal number of Democratic and Republican sponsors and co-sponsors has recently been introduced.

The new bill is known as the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. Key provisions include the following:

  • New chemicals must be tested for safety before entering the marketplace. The responsibility for testing falls to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  • Chemicals already being sold must be evaluated for safety. Those designated as having a high probability of potential risk to human health and the environment must be evaluated further.

  • The EPA is given expanded authority to act when chemicals are found to be unsafe, They may act in a number of ways, from requiring labeling to limiting use to completely banning a chemical from the marketplace.

  • The EPA is given authority  to secure health and safety information from chemical manufacturers.

  • When evaluating risks, the EPA is required to consider vulnerable populations, like children and pregnant women.

Health and environmental advocates are still evaluating the bill. Some note that it is  weaker than the Safe Chemicals Act in a number of ways, including having a weaker standard of safety, risk management requirements that are similar to what currently exists, no minimum requirements for information on new chemicals, no priority review given to the most troubling compounds, and no clear deadlines for the completion of safety reviews. There is also some concern that the federal bill may weaken state laws, which are in some cases more stringent than current federal regulations.

Despite these issues, support for the bill is growing. The New York Times calls it "the first credible effort in years to revamp the nation's outmoded chemical safety law."  The Environmental Defense Fund calls it a hard-fought compromise and urges support for it. The author of an article entitled Safe Chemicals Act Now Has Bipartisan Support calls it ground-breaking and notes that "both sides are grumbling, which is a good sign that the legislation may have struck an appropriate balance which will lead to passage into law."

I had written most of this post when I saw the news that Senator Frank Lautenberg died this morning. Senator Lautenberg was the prime force behind the Safe Chemicals Act and a sponsor of the compromise bill. I admire his tenacity and drive and his willingness to work hard for something he believed in until he drew his final breath. He was 89 years old and his health had been failing for some time. I pray that his work on the chemical issue will not have been in vain and that all of us together will take up the cause.

No comments: