Tags: chemical policy reform, Chemical Safety Improvement Act
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Elise Miller, MEd, Director
with Davis Baltz, Co-coordinator of CHE Special Projects
While CHE’s primary mission is to bring attention to the emerging environmental health science, how that science is translated into public health policy is of course crucial to improving public health broadly. Along these lines, some unexpected and important developments have taken place on federal chemical policy reform over the last few weeks.
Senator Frank Lautenberg
On May 22, 2013, Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S.1009 or CSIA) with broad bipartisan support. The introduction of the new bipartisan bill was closely followed by the passing of Senator Lautenberg, who died on June 3 of viral pneumonia at age 89. He has been widely remembered and lauded as a champion for public, environmental, and occupational health.
Senator David Vitter
Though CHE, as a whole, does not take a stand on any specific legislation, we wanted to ensure our full membership—on state, national and international levels—is aware of this significant and quickly evolving process.
First, as a bit of background, there is widespread agreement across the political spectrum that chemicals policy in the United States is broken and needs an upgrade. The only law that regulates industrial chemicals in the US, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), dates to 1976 and is considered ineffective and outdated by stakeholders across the political spectrum.
Senator Lautenberg had previously been the author of a different bill known as the Safe Chemicals Act (S. 696), which he had championed for several years, and in fact had reintroduced again in the current Congress. That bill passed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee in the last Congress, but did not advance further and never had any Republican support. Meanwhile, Senator Vitter worked on a different bill, the intent of which was also to improve the way chemicals are regulated, but which was never made available to the public.
The introduction of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, however, took many by surprise. When first announced, the CSIA was described as a compromise where both sides have made concessions. However, industry has mostly embraced the new CSIA language, while public interest organizations, state governments, legal entities, and others have expressed the need for substantial improvements.
The question currently under debate is whether CSIA is strong enough to reform TSCA in a meaningful way. The bipartisan sponsorship of the bill is big news in politically gridlocked Washington, and for this reason there is momentum for the bill to move. At the same time, there are a number of contentious issues that various entities—many of which have been focused on chemical policy reform for years—strongly believe need to be resolved if this bill is to improve upon TSCA. These include CSIA’s pre-emption of state and local laws, its lack of timelines and deadlines, a weak safety standard that closely parallels the failed TSCA statute, no consideration of aggregate exposure, no acknowledgement of disproportionately affected fenceline communities, and the use of cost-benefit analysis in regulatory decision-making.
In light of Senator Lautenberg’s recent death, concern has also been expressed about who will take on Senate leadership regarding this bill. Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, has publicly stated that she is strongly committed to TSCA reform and it is expected that she will play a key role in next steps in moving a stronger bill forward.
In short, this is a very nuanced, fast-paced and ongoing discussion about various aspects of the bill and how to respond to its introduction. To stay abreast of the latest media reports and other relevant information, please see the Environmental Health News coverage of this topic.
Getting the Questions Right January 13, 2010Posted by Nancy Hepp in Newsletter introductions.
Tags: Chasing Molecules, chemical policy reform, chronic disease, climate change, endocrine disruption, epigenetics, green chemistry
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Elise Miller, MEd
With epigenetics on the cover of Time magazine this week, public awareness of the links between our genes, our environment and our health has never been so widespread. Throughout history, breakthroughs in understanding have been largely shaped and guided by the questions we choose to ask. After World War II, the questions most researchers as well as policymakers in the U.S. were asking focused on how to build infrastructures to catalyze the growth of large-scale industrial processes and products – from pesticides to plastics to pharmaceuticals. The underlying assumption was that we could improve on nature without necessarily understanding or abiding by the natural principles that have allowed life to be nourished and sustained for the previous tens of thousands of years.
In just the last generation, however, new and pressing questions have begun to emerge. For example, why – with the vast availability of food products, abundance of sophisticated technologies, and myriad advances in medicine – are more and more people facing chronic diseases and other health problems in the U.S. as well as experiencing a lower quality of life? Why – if being successful means driving bigger cars and having bigger houses – would we be seeing glaciers melting at unprecedented rates and millions of new climate refugees?
Clearly, we can no longer delude ourselves that ‘improving on nature’ is predicated on disregarding it – and instead, ask how can we work within the systems and imitate the processes that have made this planet life-sustaining to date?
Fortunately, there are more and more researchers and others who are asking just that, and perhaps none more energetically than those in the increasingly robust field of green chemistry. Just a couple weeks ago, Paul Anastas, PhD, who is considered by some ‘the father of green chemistry’, was finally appointed Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development at the EPA. For some years now, he and other colleagues – including many of you – have suggested that a number of the major problems we see today, such as the adverse health consequences of toxic exposures and climate change, are in large part due to not asking the right questions in the first place (or perhaps, as some would argue, there were simply too few people in power asking those essential questions). By contrast, those in green chemistry are urging us to ask a set of principled questions before creating new products and technologies, so that, ultimately, the trajectory of our choices can be as biologically and ecologically benign as possible.
This month CHE is hosting or co-sponsoring three national/international calls that are intended to help us ask better questions so that our pursuits can be more in keeping with the natural systems in which we have evolved and in which future generations will live. The first is a CHE Café Call with Elizabeth Grossman, author of the recently published book Chasing Molecules, which describes how green chemistry has the potential to not only lead to safer products and materials, but reduce the health impacts of climate change. The next is a CHE Partner call on the potential health impacts of chemicals that can disrupt thyroid dysfunction and how chemical policy reform can help address these concerns. And the third call will be co-sponsored with SeaTrust and IGI and feature two colleagues working at the intersection of climate change and health and attended the recent Copenhagen climate change talks. For more information on these calls and how to register, please view the left-hand column on CHE’s home webpage.
I truly look forward to collaborating with you in the New Year in order to hone our capacity to get the questions right as we work towards a healthier tomorrow.
Changing the Landscape November 11, 2009Posted by Nancy Hepp in Newsletter introductions.
Tags: American Medical Association, asthma, chemical policy reform, climate change, Copenhagen summit, endocrine disruption, Endocrine Society, industrial chemicals, resolutions
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Elise Miller, MEd
The American Medical Association (AMA) took an unprecedented action yesterday: It unanimously passed a resolution calling for new policies to decrease public exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) [read more] based on the Endocrine Society’s seminal scientific statement on EDCs published last summer [read the statement]. Both The Endocrine Society Statement and the AMA’s resolution mark an historical turning point for mainstream medical associations. For the first time, tens of thousands of prestigious health professionals are saying in no uncertain terms:
- We have enough science to undertake proactive health measures.
- The risk to public health is too great to wait any longer.
- We need to act now to implement health protective policies and regulations.
Many CHE partners were involved in catalyzing this remarkable action. We now would like to encourage other health-related professional societies to adopt similar resolutons to signal to national leaders and policymakers that fundamental chemical policy reform can no longer be side-lined. In fact, chemical policy reform is not only integral to health care reform, as I suggested in last month’s CHE e-newsletter, but to climate change as well. EPA Administrator Jackson made this point on Monday in her remarks at the American Public Health Association conference. She announced greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles, a first for the EPA, saying the limits would mean “less harmful pollution that sends people to the hospital with asthma, heart disease, and any number of other conditions.”
In this context, what if we prioritized these same health-focused principles in climate change decisions across the board? That is, in essence, what CHE organizational partners, the Health and Environmental Alliance (HEAL) and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), are calling for in a new campaign entitled “Prescription for a Healthy Planet.” To date, protecting public health has been essentially left out of the conversation in international talks on climate change. At the upcoming Copenhagen summit in December, however, we have an opportunity to ensure that children’s health and that of other vulnerable populations are prioritized. As stated in the “Prescription”, “a fair and binding international agreement in Copenhagen means: less global warming, less illness, lower healthcare costs, better health for the world population and a healthier planet.” This sounds promising. But right now very little research and discussion has focused on climate change and health.
What we do know is that children will be the most impacted by climate change. Nine percent of American children already suffer from asthma and those attacks will become more numerous and severe with increased air pollution and ozone levels – and of course, the number of children affected in developing countries, where there may be even less regulation on pollutants, will likely be far higher. In addition, we will be faced with increased exposures to industrial chemicals as recently outlined by the World Health Organization. For example, with more extreme storms and floods, there will be greater runoff of chemicals used in urban and agricultural areas into surface and ground waters. With increased drought, non-volatile chemicals and toxic metals will concentrate and rapidly enter groundwater supplies through parched soil when rain finally comes. In addition, global warming will release chemicals currently trapped in glacial ice, and changing weather patterns will move persistent chemicals through water and air streams in ways previously unanticipated. And this doesn’t even begin to describe other concerns about increased infectious diseases and the challenges of whole populations migrating elsewhere because of rising sea water and less fertile land.
All of this is to say that the AMA and myriad other health professional societies in the US and abroad are essential to figuring out solutions to this thorny nexus of pressing public health issues, namely: chemical policy reform, health care reform and the impact of climate change on human health. Through ongoing efforts to translate the best available science for lay audiences and to incubate strategic health-focused initiatives, I have no doubt CHE partners can continue to change the landscape in which these major decisions – decisions affecting all of us and future generations – are made.